NATO Builds on Afghanistan
NATO Builds on Afghanistan’s
Once-modern Air Force
By Lisa Daniel,
American Forces Press Service.
Washingtton D.C. -- (AFPS)
-- November 2, 2011 – Afghanistan’s military retains the vestiges of a modern
air force, and its skilled and eager airmen have NATO trainers encouraged as
they build up the force, the commander of NATO Air Training Command Afghanistan
The Afghanistan air force has about 5,000 of its 8,000-member
goal, and 66 of 145 aircraft NATO plans to provide it, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen.
Timothy Ray said during a meeting with reporters at the State Department’s
Foreign Press Center here.
“Back in the 1970s and ’80s, they actually had a very modern
air force,” Ray said. The force had mostly Russian-made aircraft, which were new
then, but either were lost in later combat or weren’t maintained after the
country fell to the Taliban, he said.
“But I can tell you that we are building on that expertise
and bringing in a young force behind them,” Ray said.
So far, NATO has trained 12 of at least 70 air crews it plans
for the force “well past 2014,” when coalition forces are to turn over security
control to the Afghans, the general said. “There will be an enduring
relationship between the United States, NATO and Afghanistan,” he said. “We’re
not going to just take everything out. We’re going to stay there and help them
While there are years to go in training, Ray said, some of
the Afghan airmen are exceptional. “I’ve flown with the Afghans. I’ve been in
the cockpit with them,” he said. “I’ve seen them in action. And I can tell you,
they are very good.
“Some of ones I’ve flown with have done a brilliant job,” he
continued. “I’ve actually seen them correct NATO instructors. I’ve seen them
explain things in the cockpit that I would expect of our own forces. There’s
growth going on there, and there’s talent to build on.”
About 80 Afghan airmen are in pilot training in the United
Arab Emirates, at least 10 are being trained in the United States, and four
others are in the Czech Republic, Ray said. Afghanistan will start its own pilot
training in December, which will include its first female air force pilot. More
are learning English – the international language for aviators -- as part of the
pipeline for becoming a pilot, he said.
The coalition is teaching Afghan forces to train their own,
and to be stewards of their vehicles, aircraft and equipment, Ray said, and
doing it in ways familiar to the Afghans. Most of the aircraft being bought for
the Afghans are Russian made, such as Mi-17 helicopters, and Czech Republic
forces have taken the lead in maintenance training, he said.
NATO is focused on leader training and literacy, Ray said.
One of the biggest hurdles to the Afghan air force is that 85 percent of its
recruits are illiterate and innumerate, he said.
“When you have Afghan police who can’t read a passport, or
can’t read the paperwork he’s signing; he doesn’t know how much money he’s being
paid,” Ray said. “When you tell an Afghan soldier to put four bullets in his
gun, and he doesn’t understand that, [it’s a problem]. … It’s an absolute game
changer when you teach them to read and write.”
The NATO trainers are getting the recruits to third-grade
literacy, “and that’s a fundamental difference in the culture of Afghanistan,”
“The Taliban did absolutely nothing for this country,” he
added. Now, we have over 8 million kids in school. So, we’re raising the overall
level of the Afghanistan people in a meaningful and lasting way.”
Thirty-seven NATO and partner nations are involved in
building Afghan security forces, and more countries send money, Ray said.
The air force buildup is part of the command’s goal to grow
Afghan forces – army, air force and national police – from about 200,000
currently to 352,000. The NATO goal would put the army at 187,000, and the
police at 157,000 to last well past 2014, when the coalition plans to turn over
all of Afghanistan’s security to its own forces, Ray said.
Afghan security forces are in control of security for 25
percent of the country’s population, he said, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai
is expected to announce soon the transition of more areas to fall under Afghan
NATO trainers also are seeing much improvement in army and
police forces, Ray said. The army is doing “a much better job embedding with our
coalition partners,” and the national police “have done an amazing turnaround
and are far more capable” than two years ago when, he acknowledged, they were “a
The command raised police pay, extended training from six to
eight weeks, and started human rights training, Ray said. The police are
responding more on their own now, including in recent severe flooding in the
northeast, and “showing people that the Afghan government is there for them,” he
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