July 10, 2017 (by Lt.Cmdr. Kathryn Gray) - Personnel from the Train, Advise, Assist, Command – Air (TAAC-Air) and the Afghan Air Force conducted a bilateral casualty evacuation mission and an aerial re-supply training exercise July 9-10.
Afghan Air Force C-130H #74-1675 takes off from Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan. [USAF photo by TSgt. Joseph Swafford]
Afghan pilots and U.S. Air Force advisors from the 538th Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron made the roundtrip C-130 flight from Hamid Karzai International Airport to Kandahar Airfield to drop off supplies and facilitate the movement of wounded Afghan National Defense and Security Force personnel back to Kabul for further treatment.
"We fly several missions per week," said Lt. Col. James Torok, a C-130 advisor. "At this point we're pretty much in an assisting phase. Advising mainly comes into play when dealing with aircrew equipment and procurement. The Afghans are no longer coalition dependent on airlift missions."
The entire C-130 airlift mission was planned, coordinated, controlled, and executed by the Afghan Air Force.
Afghan Air Force Maj. Khial M. Shinwari served as the aircraft commander of the recent mission. "It was my dream to be an Air Force pilot," said Shinwari. "I come from a strong family lineage of military service, my brother and father served in the Afghan National Army, but I am the first member of my family the join the Air Force."
Afghan pilots train extensively and must re-certify on a regular basis. "We study English at the Defense Language Institute and are required to pass a proficiency test before permission is granted to enroll in flight school," said Shinwari. "Additionally, we're required to return to the United States every 18 months to re-qualify on flight simulators." The two week course presents an opportunity to reinforce capabilities and re-creates emergency situations and procedures a pilot may potentially face during flight.
In addition to the airlift mission, the Afghan Air Force also demonstrated a successful airdrop training evolution using C-208 aircraft over a remote airstrip south of the capital. Much like the C-130 missions, the Afghan Air Force took the lead in planning and execution of the exercise as coalition advisors remained strictly in an assist and advisory role.
Afghan Air Force C-208 airdrop specialist Capt. Hedayutal Rahman explained the importance of this capability, "there is always a great requirement and critical need to be able to quickly and effectively re-supply ground forces. Food, ammunition, and medical supplies keep our ground forces in the fight, and getting these items to them is a top priority."
Tactical airlift missions doubled in the past year to include the first autonomous Afghan Air Force aerial re-supply mission executed on June 28, 2017, supplying the Afghan Border Police.
Further plans to improve the capabilities of the Afghan Air Force are currently underway. Under the U.S. Overseas Contingency Operations Afghan Security Forces Fund, refurbishment and modification of existing aircraft will occur, as well as the procurement new airframes such as the UH-60 Blackhawk.
"We are building a professional, capable, and sustainable Afghan Air Force," said Brig. Gen. Phillip A. Stewart, Commanding General, Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air and commander, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing. "Both the coalition and Afghans recognize this tremendous responsibility and have exceptional initiative. Recapitalizing the Afghan Air Force and increasing its size will provide firepower and mobility; these significant offensive factors will enable the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces the ability to break the stalemate with insurgents."