Afghanistan Air Force [AAF]
The Afghan Air Force [AAF] is the primary air enabler for the ANDSF, responsible for air mobility and close air attack across all of Afghanistan. The AAF can independently plan for and provide air assets for logistics, resupply, humanitarian relief efforts, human remains return, CASEVAC, non-traditional ISR, air interdiction, armed overwatch and aerial escort mission sets.
By 2018 the AAF conducted more airstrike sorties than the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan. The AAF modernization program includes a 40 percent increase in AAF personnel and nearly triples the number of Afghan aircraft by 2023. This expansion introduces multiple new platforms, including the UH-60A helicopter and the AC-208 attack/ISR light fixed-wing aircraft. AAF modernization took a major step forward in January 2018, when the initial six UH-60A helicopters arrived in Kandahar and the first six UH-60 Afghan pilots completed Aircraft Qualification Training in January 2018. The current training program is designed to produce up to 64 pilots per year.
The AAF headquarters is located in Kabul and provided command and control of three wings, the Kabul Air Wing, Kandahar Air Wing, Shindand Air Wing, and five detachments in Mazar'e Sharif, Jalalabad, Shorab, Gardez, and Herat. The AAF conducted semi-autonomous operations from Mazar-e-Sharif, Jalalabad, Gardez, Herat, Shorab, and Shindand. Semi-autonomous operational locations were defined as those bases where there is no permanent US or coalition air advisor presence. These locations were periodically visited by expeditionary advising teams to assess progress.
The AAF’s infrastructure build made significant progress during 2011, reaching nearly 56 percent completion of all facilities projects. Kabul Air Wing facilities lead the way at nearly 83 percent complete, with Kandahar Air Wing following closely at 75 percent complete. The main training base at Shindand would soon begin Phase II of its four phases of construction, with training operations already underway. In parallel, planning and initial construction for the AAF’s air detachments at Herat, Mazar-e-Sharif, and Jalalabad are also underway. Construction of AAF infrastructure was expected to be completed in late 2014.
The AAF has been unable to maintain its infrastructure. Facility engineers are significantly hampered by ineffective supply and contracting systems, lack of local procurement authority, and lack of funding. Preventive maintenance does not occur due to lack of materials and base infrastructure is not being maintained. Water outages, electrical system issues, and lighting failures also hinder maintenance personnel’s ability to maintain aircraft.
Between FY 2010 and FY 2015 the United States obligated more than $2.5 billion to help develop the AAF. This includes more than $905 million for equipment and aircraft. The majority of funding for the AAF is for sustainment followed by training, equipment, and aircraft.
As of 2015, as part of the ANA, the AAF was responsible for air mobility and close air attack. With the transition from ISAF to RS (Resolute Support) forces during this reporting period, the AAF has become the primary air enabler for the ANDSF, flying most operations independently. The AAF can now independently plan and execute air operations such as emergency extraction, armed overwatch, casualty evacuation, air reconnaissance, close air attack, and airlift of forces. The AAF also provided air assets for logistics, resupply, humanitarian relief efforts, human remains return, air interdiction, and aerial escort.
As of November 30, 2015, the AAF had a total of 91 aircraft. Fixed-wing platforms include C-208s and C-130s; rotary-wing platforms include Mi-35s, Mi-17s, MD-530s, and Cheetahs. The first A-29 Super Tucano delivery remained on schedule for January 2016 after the first class of pilots graduates from training at Moody Air Force Base and returns to Afghanistan.
By 2011, the AAF's long-term development strategy envisioned an air force that could support the needs of the ANSF and the Afghan Government by 2016. It would be capable of Presidential airlift, air mobility, rotary and fixed-wing close air support, casualty evacuation, and aerial reconnaissance. The AAF also planned to be able to sustain its capacity through indigenous training institutions, including a complete education and training infrastructure. The air fleet would consist of a mix of Russian and Western airframes. Afghan airmen would operate in accordance with NATO procedures, and would be able to support the Afghan Government effectively by employing all of the instruments of COIN airpower. The United States viewed this plan as ambitious and said that it belied a continuing tension between aspirations and affordability.
The Afghan Air Force’s long-term development strategy as of early 2012 included the creation of an air force that can support the needs of the ANSF and Afghan Government by 2016. This force would be capable of presidential airlift, air mobility, rotary and fixed-wing close air support, casualty evacuation, and aerial reconnaissance. The AAF also plans to be able to sustain its capacity through indigenous training institutions, including a complete education and training infrastructure. The air fleet would consist of a mix of Russian and Western airframes. Afghan airmen would operate in accordance with NATO procedures and would be able to support the Afghan Government effectively by employing the instruments of airpower.
AAF plans were ambitious and indicative of a need to balance Afghan Government aspirations, necessity, and affordability. As of early 2012, AAF capacity and capability remained extremely limited and future progress was challenged by significant obstacles, including inadequate national education and literacy levels as well as a nascent pilot training program. Corruption also remained a significant problem in the AAF, where a criminal patronage network is involved in numerous illegal activities. ISAF and the Afghan Government continue to work together to combat corruption, and as of the end of the reporting period, numerous investigations were ongoing. Nevertheless, the Afghan Government had yet to demonstrate the political will to address corruption and remove and prosecute corrupt officials on a consistent basis.
The Afghan air force would not reach necessary strength levels until 2020, according top US General John Campbell, who ended his command of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan. He told reporters 11 March 2016 that some aircraft procured for the force would not arrive in Afghanistan until 2018. The force would then need an additional two to three years to train the pilots needed for the new aircraft, he explained. "2020 is probably a good guess," Campbell said.
The force would double the number of A-29 turboprop attack aircraft according to Campbell. It would also add eight to 10 MD-530 armed helicopters — which the general referred to as "little birds" — to the Afghan air arsenal this fighting season.
Uzbek authorities said 22 Afghan military aircraft and 24 Afghan helicopters carrying 585 Afghan servicemen flew into Uzbekistan after the fall of the governmenton 15 August 2021, landing at Termez airport. Among the planes that crossed the border was an Afghan military plane that crashed in the southern province of Surkhondaryo, the statement said. The state prosecutor said that the crash came after a collision between an Afghan military plane and an Uzbek government plane that was assisting its landing. "The pilots of these aircraft landed by parachute," the statement said.
An aircraft with Afghan air force markings crash-landed in southern Surkhandaryo region on the night of August 15. Aviation enthusiasts identified the stricken craft as possibly being an A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft. The website reported on at least one fatality and cited sources as saying two Afghan servicemen were being treated for injuries at a hospital in Termez. The Uzbek Defense Ministry later confirmed that it had shot down the plane.
The Biden administration reached an agreement with Uzbekistan to transfer a group of Afghan military pilots to a U.S. military base, The Wall Street Journal reported 11 September 2021. The Taliban-led Afghan government was pressuring Uzbekistan to turn the pilots and their equipment over to Kabul. The fate of the 46 aircraft flown by the pilots to Uzbekistan -- including U.S.-supplied Black Hawks, PC-12 surveillance aircraft, and Soviet-era MI-17s -- still remained unclear.
Uzbekistan's neighbor Tajikistan said it had allowed over 100 Afghan military members to land at Bokhtar airport in the south of the country. "Tajikistan received SOS signals, after which, in accordance with the country's international obligations, it was decided to allow Afghan servicemen to land at the airport," the Tajik foreign ministry's information department told Russian news agencies Interfax. RIA Novosti reported that three planes carrying the soldiers had landed in Bokhtar during the night.
A representative of the Afghan Embassy in Dushanbe told Eurasianet that more than 140 servicemen flew into Bokhtar airport in Tajikistan on August 15 onboard at least 16 different aircraft. He said the pilots had commandeered the aircraft to ensure they did not fall into the hands of the Taliban.
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