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AFGHAN HELICOPTER FORCE TAKES SHAPE

06 Apr 10. The beginnings of a robust and dedicated Afghan helicopter force is beginning to take shape, thanks in part to the contribution of British military experience and expertise.

The Kandahar Air Wing of the Afghanistan National Air Corps has come on leaps and bounds since its arrival in October 2009.

Now with 572 personnel established on the wing, including experienced pilots, trainee pilots, engineers, logistics and admin staff, mission planning is becoming a reality.

The Air Wing currently operate four Mi-17 transport helicopters but are planning to have 14 by 2011.

Two Afghan Mi17s could recently be seen over the English countryside as part of a project run by UK tri-Service personnel from the Joint Helicopter Command to train Afghan pilots to fly the Russian-built helicopters.

A total of 26 pilots and one ground crewman were trained over the course of the two year project and have now returned to Afghanistan to fly the aircraft in their homeland as part of a seed corn of an indigenous air force in the country.

Speaking in the UK last month, one of those pilots, known as Sayeed, explained his motivation: “I want to work for our people. I want stability in my country, and I want peace in my country, because we are anti-terrorist.

“We are against those people who are against our country. So if those people are against us, so I am against them, this is for sure. That’s why I am training.”

Wing Commander Al Smith, Officer Commanding of the Special Duties Squadron, said, “The students are of a very good standard, partly because they’re talented, partly because they’re also enthusiastic and want to make a difference to their country.”

However, their training doesn’t stop when they return to Afghanistan and Major General Abdul Raziq Sherzai, Officer Commanding of the Kandahar Air Wing, explained that Wednesday and Sundays are official training days when taskings are concentrated on developing the combat ready capability of experienced pilots, although no operational tasking is ever turned down.

As in the UK, the skills of helicopter pilots and the versatility of the machines is being put to good use in humanitarian efforts.

Pilot Lieutenant Colonel Amanullah explained how the Air Corps assisted local people during a torrential flood last month, “The river and wadi’s had burst their banks and local people were trapped in
their compounds and some were in the water,” he said.

“We landed our helicopters as close as possible, rescuing up to 30 people.”

Whilst Kabul Air Wing is still the centre of gravity for the Air Corps with most fixed wing aircraft (including C-27’s, An-32’s and An-26’s) based there; there is a palpable excitement and buzz at Kandahar.

Colonel Bernard Mater, USAF, who is the senior air advisor to the Kandahar Air Wing, is genuinely impressed with the development of the whole team:

“You can either teach, coach, mentor or advise,” he said, “but with the Afghan Air Corps we advise where necessary.

“It would be wrong to impose other nations’ ways of doing business and to be honest the partnership works as we learn from each other.”

The Royal Air Force’s 903 Air Expeditionary Wing at Camp Bastion has also contributed to the learning process when two Mi-17s came across to Helmand to support Operation MOSHTARAK last month.

Wing Commander Craig Mason of 903 Air Expeditionary Wing said, “We developed pilot’s awareness of landing and take-off procedures, translating the local air traffic orders into Pashtun and showing pilots our radio protocols.”

As more and more trained personnel come on board a third wing is expected to be ultimately co-located with the flying training academy planned to be set up at Shindand Airbase, Herat Province.

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