Afghan Air Force
By Hans van Herk
Afghanistan is slowly emerging from her old Soviet style structure. The Soviet influence in the Afghan armed forces can be traced back to 1925, one year after its formation, when a squadron of bomber biplanes was presented to King Amanullah. Although British and Italian aircraft were purchased on several occasions, Soviet equipment was also commonly operated. The Air Force was an integral part of the Army, and remains so this date.
Soviet military aid to the Afghan Army has always been significant, and since the mid-1970s it was substantially increased. Soviet advisers were supplemented by maintenance and base security personnel. Additionally, the Soviet aviation units operate from a number of Afghan air bases. Soviet forces marched into Afghanistan in December 1979, and by early 1980 there were already over 100.000 Soviet military in the country.
During the 1980s, the Soviet Union built up the Afghan Air Force, first in an attempt to defeat the mujahideen and in hopes that a strong Afghan air power would preserve the pro-Soviet government of Dr. Mohammad Najibullah Ahmadzai, also known as Najibullah or Najib. The Air Force had over 400 military aircraft, including more than 200 Soviet-made fighter jets. The collapse of Najibullah's government in 1992 and the continuation of a civil war throughout the 1990s reduced the number of Afghan aircraft to less than a dozen. During Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001, in which the Taliban government was ousted from power, only a few helicopters remained of the Afghan Air Force. Most aircraft still remaining by 2001 were destroyed by coalition forces in Operation Enduring Freedom. What was left of the Afghan Air Force was a few dozen pilots, most of whom had not flown since 1996, occupying a part of Bagram Air Base near Kabul. As part of the establishment of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) in 2002, an Air Corps was subsequently established within the new Afghan National Army (ANA).
The ANAAC was in a very poor state as of late 2004. It lacked airworthy combat planes and possessed only a few attack helicopters. Airlift capabilities were very modest, with maybe ten utility and attack helicopters and a few light transport planes at their disposal. Maintenance technicians were being trained, but no pilots. The Afghan National Army Air Corps relied on the vast pool of pilots who were trained during the communist period. More than 450 enlisted with the Afghan National Air Corps, but the majority of these serviceman had logged very few flying hours since 1990.
While the United States had said that it intended to rebuild the air force and various other countries had made offers to donate equipment, no material aid had arrived by 2005. At that time, essentially all air operations in Afghanistan were conducted by US and other allied aircraft. In June 2010, President Hamid Karzai redesignated the Afghan National Army Air Corps as the Afghan Air Force (AAF). The name change did not make the AAF independent from the ANA, but the move affirmed Afghan intent to eventually return the air force to its former independent status. By 2011, the AAF's long-term development strategy envisioned an air force that could support the needs of the ANSF and the Afghan Government by 2016. It would be capable of Presidential airlift, air mobility, rotary and fixed-wing close air support, casualty evacuation, and aerial reconnaissance. The AAF also planned to be able to sustain its capacity through indigenous training institutions, including a complete education and training infrastructure. The air fleet would consist of a mix of Russian and Western airframes. Afghan airmen would operate in accordance with NATO procedures, and would be able to support the Afghan Government effectively by employing all of the instruments of COIN airpower.
The current Order of Battle, which is operational since June 2012, consists of four Air Force Wings. These wings have their main bases in Kabul, Kandahar, Shindand and Mazar-e-Sharif. Every wing consists of several squadrons and do administer some Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). All wings report to the Afghan Air Force HQ, which in itself is part of the Afghan National Army. The wings therefore also have a direct relation with an Army’s Corps unit. The Kabul Air Wing serves the 201st Corps, the Kandahar Air Wing the 205th, the Shindand Air Wing the 207th and the Mazar-e-Sharif Air Wing the 209th Corps. Currently the Afghan National Army maintains six corps; each corps is responsible for one major area of the country.