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Sun, Apr 11, 2010

Afghan Helicopter Force Takes Off With UK Help

Dedicated Afghan Helicopter Wing Beginning To Take Shape

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 made significant progress 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.

"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," said a pilot known as Sayeed, speaking in the UK last month. "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."

However, their training doesn't stop when they return to Afghanistan. Major General Abdul Raziq Sherzai, Officer Commanding of the Kandahar Air Wing, explained that Wednesday and Sundays are official training days. The focus is 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 said 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."

While Kabul Air Wing is still the center 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, said he 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."



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