By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Aug. 12, 2009 - While building its capabilities from the ground up, Afghanistan's National Army Air Corps is deeply involved in an operational mission in direct support of the upcoming elections: ferrying candidates and election materials around the country and helping to provide security. "The air corps has been very heavily involved in the run-up to the elections in several ways," U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Walter D. Givhan, commander of the Combined Air Power Transition Force in Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters today via satellite feed from his Kabul headquarters.
The Afghan national government tasked its fledging air corps with providing transportation to all presidential candidates so they could get around the country to address the people, Givhan said. The air corps also is delivering election materials, an effort Givhan said is faster and safer by air than by navigating Afghanistan's limited road system.
Meanwhile, the air corps is deployed nationwide, supporting the regional land corps as they work to provide a secure environment for the elections, he said. Part of its efforts are focused on the restive Regional Command South area, where the Operation Eastern Resolve II offensive kicked off earlier today.
The goal is to "ensure that we've got good security, both in the lead-up to and on Election Day itself," Givhan said. "[The air corps] will be involved in a lot of security operations."
Election support is part of the air corps' increasing role in real-world operational missions.
In one recent mission in northern Afghanistan, the air corps used four Mi-17 helicopters to airlift more than 1,500 flood-stricken people to safety. Air corps crews also frequently transport Afghan national police and border police, as required, Givhan said.
While pressing to get Afghanistan's air corps operational -- and into the fight -- as quickly as possible, Givhan said, the effort is tempered with the need to safeguard the country's limited air assets until they're increased. The air corps consists of 36 fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, but is expected to grow to 139 aircraft by 2016.
"With the scarce assets we have right now, ... we naturally want to make sure that we're using those in a very deliberate and the best way that we can use them, and to mitigate the risk to them when we can," Givhan said.
For example, coalition aircraft have served as attack escorts for Afghan Mi-17 helicopters on several occasions, he said.
Those missions will be less necessary when the Afghan National Army Air Corps reaches its next big milestone: achieving initial operational capability for its Mi-35 attack helicopters. "We'll actually be sending those into combat situations very soon," Givhan said.
Ultimately, the Combined Air Power Transition Force in Afghanistan aims to build "a strong, capable and sustainable Afghan National Army Air Corps that meets the security requirements for this country," Givhan said.
"We're not trying to recreate the U.S. Air Force. We're not trying to recreate Army aviation here. We're not trying to create the Royal Air Force or another other air force," he said. "This is about an air corps that is tailored to meet the needs and demands of Afghanistan."
Givhan described what officials hope the Afghan air corps ultimately will look like. It will be "modern, interoperable and sustainable, capable of working with the rest of the security forces in this country, performing joint and coalition operations, and ultimately integrated into that global community of those who fly around the world," he said.