Afghan Air Force Needs both Pilots and Planes

Size is not the only problem facing the Afghan air force. They have only 130 aircrafts and don’t have enough crews and pilots to fly them all. The Taliban militants are once again gaining territory in the south and north of Afghanistan and this shortage of planes and pilots is hampering the ability of the security forces to fight them. The troops on the ground are demanding more air support, which is responsible for evacuating the casualties that occur in the battlefield and also for firing on the enemy. The day this high demand can be met by Afghan aircrafts are a long way off.

In the eastern province of Kunar, a border police commander spoke anonymously that two policeman had been wounded three weeks ago in the fight with the Taliban, but they had been transferred to the hospital after five days. He added that sometimes they had to wait a week for the casualties to be evacuated from the battlefield. Afghan armed forces are being trained by the US-led NATO coalition now that the main combat mission of the alliance is over, but its advisers said that they were struggling to field enough experienced crews and pilots. Colonel Troy Henderson said that their real challenge was finding human capital.

He said that buying aircrafts was relatively easy as opposed to finding and training pilots, which was slower and more difficult. According to the commander of the Afghan air force, Major General Abdul Wahab Wardak, the 130 aircrafts are not sufficient. He also said that the problem was worsened due to the lack of trained crews for the existing aircrafts. In the past year, the United States has provided a rising number of more advanced aircrafts in order to make up for the withdrawal of a greater part of international forces.

Henderson said that in the process of building an air wing for special operations and for training pilots and crews to fly new aircrafts like the C-130 cargo planes and the small A-29 attack aircraft, coalition advisers had to call experienced pilots from other units. As operations were scaled back by the US-led coalition, missions of the Afghan air force almost doubled as they reached 22,260 in 2015 from 10,060 in 2014. Around 6,930 missions had been conducted by Afghan aircrafts from January to May 2016. As the Afghans field more aircrafts, the deployment of widely used aircrafts has become limited due to crew shortages.

Officials said that last year, they had lost almost nine aircrafts due to maintenance issues and accidents. As far as this year is concerned, only two Mi-17 helicopters have been lost by the Afghan air force. Advisers said that this was an indication of the experience the pilots were getting. Over the past year, aircrafts have played the role of lifeline for ground troops that were cut off by the Taliban in areas like Kunduz and Helmand, but the lack of crews means that the air force is unable to keep up with the high demand.