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Dunford Says Aviation Brings 'Asymmetric Advantage' to Afghan Force

KABUL, Afghanistan, July 21, 2016 — As the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff attended briefings at the U.S. Air Force’s 438th Air Expeditionary Wing at Kabul International Airport here, a special delivery arrived for the Afghan air force.

Five new MD-530 Cayuse Warrior helicopters were wheeled off a C-17 Globemaster III transport from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. The attack helicopters were moved into position where Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford would soon inspect those and other aircraft used by Afghan forces in the fight against the Taliban.

Air Force Lt. Col. James Detweiler, the 438th Air Expeditionary Advisory Group deputy commander, said the 438th Air Expeditionary Wing/ Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air is supporting a functional, capable and sustainable Afghan air force. "It takes quite a while to build an air force, especially when you're trying to almost build it from scratch," he said. With the latest delivery, the Afghan air force has 23 MD-530s.  

An objective of the training mission is to teach the Afghans how to integrate the air power with other air assets and ground forces, he said. While U.S. pilots are fully trained before undertaking a mission, the Afghan forces are training while executing combat missions, Detweiler said, adding that the Afghan forces are resilient and eager to learn.

"It's really impressive to watch them work and continue to move through the problem sets and continue training, continue flying combat operations all at the same time," he said.

Dunford Hails Aviation as 'Asymmetric Advantage'

Air power, both from the United States and the burgeoning Afghan air force, is a critical element in the fight against the Taliban, Dunford told reporters. "Aviation for the Afghan security forces is an asymmetric advantage for the Afghan security forces," he said on his plane after concluding the July 14-17 visit to Afghanistan. "I think that is what's going to allow them to continue to maintain momentum this year." A priority of the trip, he pointed out, was to see the Afghan air force and talk about recapitalizing the Afghan air force, which he described as a "major combat multiplier."   

Aircraft in Afghanistan's fleet include C-130s and A-29s, while the United States can provide a variety of air support, including with unmanned aerial vehicles, fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, reconnaissance flights, and lift for resupply, military officials said.

Building Confidence

In an interview at Resolute Support headquarters, Army Maj. Gen. Richard Kaiser reiterated the process in building an air force, but said the Afghans are doing well and have proven very effective. Kaiser is the commander of Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan and Resolute Support’s deputy chief of staff for security assistance.

He welcomed the delivery of the five MD-530s, saying those helicopters are another element in building a strong air force for Afghanistan. "The ability for the Afghans to have an air force that they can look at [and] rely upon has absolutely built their confidence up," Kaiser said.

The increased capabilities of the Afghan forces, coupled with a renewed international commitment to Afghanistan, have encouraged the Afghan people and the security forces, said Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, the commander of Resolute Support and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, who spoke in a separate interview here.

"The ability to help the Afghan security forces when they are on the offense is really where we want to be," Nicholson explained, "because when they have the initiative, when they're on the offense, when they're taking the fight to the enemy, that's how they are going to be successful."

The general expressed confidence in the future of Afghanistan: "I think we're on a positive trajectory going forward," he said.

(Follow Lisa Ferdinando on Twitter @FerdinandoDoD)

Distribution channels: Military