By Judith Snyderman
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
Aug. 12, 2010 - Over the past month, members of the fledgling Afghan air force have been carrying out lifesaving humanitarian missions in Pakistan and Afghanistan, demonstrating their skills and giving a glimpse into the future shape of the air corps.
U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael R. Boera, commander of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan's Combined Air Power Transition Force, told bloggers during a "DoD Live" bloggers roundtable yesterday that the Afghan air force is currently flying four Mi-17 helicopters on missions in Pakistan, where monsoon triggered floods have killed some 1,600 and imperiled millions of lives.
Boera said Afghan air force leaders coordinated the relief effort directly with Pakistan officials.
"We don't have any U.S. air advisers with them," he said. "We did that for a reason. They have progressed and are good enough that they can go out and do this."
Boera added this is not the first time the fliers have performed this type of mission. Just before the rain started in Pakistan last month, it hit the eastern portion of Afghanistan. Over a two-day period, Boera said, combined Afghan and U.S. aircrews rescued more than 2,100 people stranded near Jalalabad, Pakistan.
"They did phenomenal work," Boera recalled, adding that in the past year, Afghan airmen also have come to the aid of their countrymen near the national capital of Kabul following an avalanche and after a commercial airliner crash. They also helped south of Kandahar after flooding earlier this year.
Members of the Afghan air force are also making a name for themselves by flying generators and school supplies to rural outposts in northeastern regions of Afghanistan that are otherwise reachable only by donkey.
"Seeing is believing," Boera said. So, when the air corps engages with the people of Afghanistan, they are helping to carry out the counterinsurgency mission.
"They're representative of what the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan can bring to the people of Afghanistan that many other [Afghan] forces can't do, and certainly a local villager elder can't do, because of the lift that's required," Boera explained.
Since NATO Training Mission Afghanistan stood up in November, Afghanistan's air force has grown from fewer than 2,800 to 3,900 airmen. They have also added to the fleet. A C-27 that arrived this week became the force's 50th aircraft. Ultimately, Boera said, he expects the fleet to include 146 aircraft. The majority, he said, will be Western-type airframes, and the rest will be Russian models, such as the Mi-17.
The Mi-17 has proven to be effective during relief operations, he added, "because it's got hoist capability, there's more power to it, [and] it's got a common cockpit configuration."
Boera said members of the Afghan air force are expanding the scope of operational missions they are able to perform. But next month, he added, they'll repeat a vital service mission so Afghans can head to the polls.
"They're prepping for election support, and this will be the third time the Afghan air force assets are used to support pushing the ballot boxes out to those remote areas of Afghanistan so that it can maximize how many Afghans can vote," Boera said.