On 3 March 2011, the Presidential Airlift Squadron completed its first move of President Karzai by an all-Afghan crew. One air advisor remained in the formation to provide assistance, if required, but was not on the President's aircraft.
As of early 2012 the NATO Air Training Command – Afghanistan (NATC-A) was focused on building Afghanistan’s airpower along four lines of operation: aircraft build, airmen build, infrastructure build, and operational capability. All lines of operation made limited progress during the reporting period, but remain immature. The AAF build timeline lags the rest of the ANSF, as it started its training mission two years later, and more time is needed for technical training to produce pilots, mechanics, and several other technical skill sets.
US officials investigated allegations that some Afghan Air Force officers had been using official aircraft to fly drugs and illegal weapons around the country. A US newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, says investigators are also looking into whether the alleged air force drug and weapons trafficking is related to a deadly attack last year. In the attack, an Afghan military pilot opened fire on NATO troops, killing eight U.S. soldiers and an American contractor. It was the deadliest such incident since the war began in 2001. The Journal reported the attacker, an air force colonel, was accused of being involved in the illegal activities, while most of the victims were involved in an early phase of the investigation. A NATO spokesman said the investigation was very preliminary.
The AAF performed well in the 2015 fighting season and demonstrated an increased ability to support ANDSF operations effectively. The AAF provided almost all aerial fires in support of ANDSF operations during this fighting season relying on their small number of Mi-35 attack helicopters, fixed forward firing modified Mi-17s, and armed MD-530 light attack helicopters. From January 1 to October 31, 2015 the AAF flew 3,770 aerial fires missions compared to 61 missions for the same period in 2014.42 The MD-530 made its combat debut midway through the fighting season, providing critical aerial fires support to the ANDSF during Operation Iron Triangle and in Kandahar in late October 2015. Engagements such as these will boost ANDSF confidence in the growing effectiveness of their organic aerial fires capability.
Given a significantly higher AAF operational tempo and focused support to combat operations, in-country training for pilots and maintenance personnel was curtailed this fighting season. More than 96 percent of total flying hours were spent on operations, compared to less than four percent devoted to training. Lack of training opportunities was a contributing factor to multiple mishaps in 2015. TAAC-Air is advising the AAF on better fleet management; however, there is a tension between the training and combat demands of the small AAF fleet.
The AAF also demonstrated increased efficiency in deploying forces, specifically during operations in Kunduz, Helmand, Logar, and Wardak Provinces. In each instance, the AAF proactively allocated and staged Mi-17s and Mi-35s for pre-planned, rather than reactive, support to ANDSF operations in these areas.
During 2015 the MD-530 reached initial operational capability with its first combat employment in support of Operation Iron Triangle in Sarobi, Hisarak, and Azrah districts. In addition, in late September 2015 five MD-530s were forward-deployed from Kabul to Kandahar to support operations in Helmand. The Afghans successfully planned and executed the aircraft movement, a significant and rapid development in their ability to conduct expeditionary MD-530 operations.
The AAF also continued to develop its air-to-ground integration by leveraging its expeditionary Air Liaison Officer capability and building teams of ATAC / Air Liaison Officers that can be prepositioned with the ANA corps. These teams helped the AAF integrate scarce helicopter resources into ANDSF operations, including enabling the first MD-530 combat missions.
Additionally, the AAF made notable progress in its ability to provide adequate CASEVAC support to the ANDSF during 2015. As of October 31, 2015, the AAF removed 7,780 injured personnel from the battlefield compared to approximately 2,000 in all of 2014. The coalition continues to train AAF personnel and ANA air medics, through the ANA corps, on CASEVAC procedures to improve capacity and capability.
By 2018 enabler integration, such as attack aviation, ISR, and indirect fires, was improving. The ANDSF regularly conduct airstrikes with MD-530 rotary-wing and A-29 fixed-wing aircraft with decreasing levels of coalition assistance, relying instead on Afghan Terminal Air Coordinators (ATAC) to control fires through direct communication with Afghan pilots. In March 2018, the ANDSF executed their first airstrike using ATACs to direct a laser-guided bomb dropped by an A-29 pilot. The ANDSF continued to train ATACs and conduct collective training on combined arms maneuver to integrate air assets into operations more effectively.
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