By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 15, 2008 - The Afghan National Army Air Corps has made big strides, with 27 operational aircraft – three times the number it had a year ago –flying 350 percent more missions in direct support of Afghan security forces, a senior military official reported today. Air Force Maj. Gen. Jay Lindell, commander of the Combined Air Corps Transition Force in Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters via teleconference from the Afghan capital of Kabul that the Afghan air corps is developing capabilities needed to assume missions currently carried out by coalition forces.
The air corps is taking on more of these helicopter and fixed-wing missions, which include medical evacuation support, casualty evacuation, general logistics support and general battlefield mobility, he said.
"We've made great progress in the last year," he said, improving capability that has "got this air corps into the fight."
Lindell noted that a year ago, NATO International Security Assistance Force members were flying nearly 90 percent of the Afghan National Army's passenger load. Now, the Afghans fly nearly 90 percent of those missions. During August alone, the Afghan air corps flew more than 100,000 kilograms of cargo in direct support of the Afghan National Army. It also conducted 50 medevac and casualty evacuation missions, he said.
The Air Corps flies about 800 sorties a month. "We have a growing capability," the general said. "We continue to grow every month and progress."
Ultimately, the Afghan National Army Air Corps will grow to about 7,500 members, with 125 rotary and fixed-wing aircraft. "This air corps will grow and expand its capability as the national Army grows," Lindell said.
The general called 2011 the "benchmark year" for the air corps' development. "At that time, we plan to have this air corps fully operational, capable and independent for the mobility mission sets," he said. These include medevac, general logistical support and battlefield movement capabilities.
Beyond that, the campaign plan calls for continued growth through 2016. "At that time, we will develop the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance capability that's needed for the insurgency fight and we will develop an attack capability for this air corps," he said.
The biggest challenge in forging the way ahead boils down to leadership, he said.
"We can provide a lot of infrastructure training [and] acquire the right aircraft," he said. "But it's the Afghan leadership and their ability to command and control this air corps knowledgeable about air power that is our biggest challenge."
Lindell credited his 175 soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians, as well as their Canadian counterparts, with providing the example of leadership and professionalism needed for the Afghan air corps to develop. He expressed confidence the Afghans will continue increasing their air corps' capability.
"They're warriors at heart," he said. "They want to do this mission. They want a national air corps. They want to provide security for their country."