USA — Transition Force Creates Air Power in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, June 11, 2010 — About 450 U.S. and NATO forces are work­ing to bring the 3,300 mem­bers and 48 air­craft of the Afghanistan army air corps up to par as part of a long-term effort to give the coun­try a self-suf­fi­cient air force, the U.S. Air Force gen­er­al lead­ing the tran­si­tion team said yes­ter­day.

“Our mis­sion is to set the con­di­tions for a pro­fes­sion­al, ful­ly inde­pen­dent and oper­a­tional­ly capa­ble Afghan air force that is ready to meet the secu­ri­ty require­ments of Afghanistan today and tomor­row,” Brig. Gen. Michael R. Boera, com­man­der of the NATO Train­ing Mis­sion Afghanistan’s Com­bined Air Pow­er Tran­si­tion Force, said dur­ing a “DoDLive” blog­gers round­table yes­ter­day.

Boera over­sees the devel­op­ment of avi­a­tion with­in the Afghan mil­i­tary and police forces, which includes men­tor­ing, train­ing and assist­ing avi­a­tion units. Afghanistan’s air forces con­sist of the nation­al army air corps and an air inter­dic­tion unit, which teams with the Afghan nation­al police and U.S. forces on coun­ternar­cotics.

“We didn’t want to cre­ate two air forces,” Boera said. “We want­ed to find the effi­cien­cies that could be had with our over­sight — one-per­son over­sight of it — so that we can max­i­mize infra­struc­ture build, facil­i­ty build, and for myself, train­ers, if you will, that are very chal­leng­ing to come by.”

Boera’s team does its mis­sion with about 450 sol­diers, sailors, air­men, Marines, con­trac­tors and NATO part­ners in four loca­tions around the coun­try, and he plans to expand to two addi­tion­al loca­tions.

One of his pri­ma­ry mis­sions is to take care of the growth and devel­op­ment of the air force and turn it into a pro­fes­sion­al force.

The air corps cur­rent­ly has 48 air­craft and almost 3,300 sol­diers, includ­ing non­com­mis­sioned and com­mis­sioned offi­cers. They plan to grow to 146 air­craft and more than 8,000 air­men, Boera said. The Air Inter­dic­tion Unit has nine air­craft and 129 air­men, and plans to expand to 19 air­craft and 282 air­men, he said.

The mis­sion in Afghanistan is a long-term effort. “You can­not build an air force over night,” Boera said. To build a good force takes any­where from two to five years to devel­op an air crew, and up to three-and-a-half years to train an engi­neer, or main­tain­er, from scratch, he said.

“My job is to put our­selves out of a job,” the gen­er­al said of the NATO train­ing mis­sion. His goal is to set the con­di­tions for a tran­si­tion that allows the Afghans to teach Afghans. The team is see­ing that in some areas already, he said.

Asked what some of the chal­lenges are in Afghanistan, Boera said the biggest one is bridg­ing a com­mand and con­trol dis­con­nect with use of the forces. The sol­diers have strong alliances to their own groups and don’t always com­mu­ni­cate exter­nal­ly across all lev­els of com­mand.

Lan­guage bar­ri­ers also are a prob­lem because many sol­diers are learn­ing Eng­lish. One of the biggest mes­sages Boera said he con­veys to the Afghan forces is that speak­ing and learn­ing Eng­lish isn’t just a U.S. inter­est, but a require­ment to join the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty of air­men.

The most crit­i­cal area the Afghan air force is work­ing toward is the insti­tu­tion­al devel­op­ment of the forces through school­ing, tech­ni­cal train­ing and mil­i­tary train­ing, Boera said, adding that it’s impor­tant to devel­op an intel­lec­tu­al infra­struc­ture to tie into the build­ing infra­struc­ture being done across the coun­try.

One of the biggest strengths Boera sees is the opti­mism and com­mit­ment of many young Afghan sol­diers. “There is so much hope, and there is so much excite­ment in their eyes,” he said.

He also believes that the air forces will be able to pro­vide a vis­i­ble sym­bol of what the Afghan gov­ern­ment can do for its cit­i­zens.

The tran­si­tion force is work­ing with the Afghan forces to ensure they max­i­mize their capa­bil­i­ties so they have every­thing they need to sup­port their ground forces after the tran­si­tion.

“We push it up, we aim high, and we do every­thing shoul­der by shoul­der in our imbed­ded part­ner­ship with the Afghans and our coali­tion part­ners,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)