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DoD News Briefing with Maj. Gen. Lindell from Afghanistan

Presenters: Commander, Combined Air Corps Transition Force, Maj. Gen. Jay Lindell
September 15, 2008
COLONEL GARY KECK, U.S. ARMY (director, DOD Press Office): Well, good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Pentagon. I'm Colonel Gary Keck, the director of the Press Office. Mr. Whitman was planning to be here today but he got called to another meeting. So I will be happy to moderate.
We have with us today, from Afghanistan, Major General Jay Lindell. Let me make sure he can hear me okay.
Sir, can you hear me all right?
GEN. LINDELL: I can hear you okay. Thank you.
COL. KECK: Okay, sir.
General Lindell is the commander of the Combined Air Power Transition Force in Afghanistan. He's responsible for assisting the government of Afghanistan as it develops, equips and trains the Afghan air corps. He's coming to us from Kabul and he's, I think, he's done this one time before today. So let me just turn it over to General Lindell.
Sir, let's go ahead and go to you for your opening comments.
GEN. LINDELL: Okay. Well, thank you very much. It's very good to be able to answer your questions and talk to you this evening, Kabul time.
My responsibility, as stated, is to develop and train the Afghan national army air corps. I work for Major General Cone, who is the commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command- Afghanistan.
I've been in Afghanistan nearly 13 months. I work with a team of highly dedicated professionals, approximately 125 personnel plus 50 civilian personnel.
My team has soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines. I also have Canadians on my team. And we work very hard at developing the national army air corps.
We've made great progress in the last year. Last September of 2007, we had 9 operational, flying Afghan air corps aircraft. Today, we have 27 and we have got this air corps into the fight.
We are flying 350 percent more sorties, more missions directly supporting the national security forces of Afghanistan in this fight. And with that, I'm pleased to answer any of your questions.
COL. KECK: Okay, sir. We appreciate that. Let's go right ahead and -- who has anything?
Go ahead, Daphne.
Q     Daphne Benoit from the Agence France-Presse. Good morning. I was wondering if you could give us a sense of your future needs, in terms of trainers, because currently this training is -- I mean, it's going to take a long time until the air force -- the Afghan air force is self-sufficient. So what are your needs in terms of trainers in the future?
GEN. LINDELL: Okay, Colonel, if you could repeat that question -- I didn't hear that question very clearly at all.
COL. KECK: Okay, sir, yeah. That was Daphne from AFP and she was wondering if you could articulate your future needs for trainers. As you go down the road, she seems to believe that this is a long-term effort. And how would you describe the need for trainers and how well you'll be supplied/resourced with trainers in the future?
GEN. LINDELL: Great. Great question. Yes, this is a long-term effort, building the air corps. We have a campaign plan that stretches out through year 2016. And training is the key at developing the capabilities of this air corps to take over all mission sets that are currently performed by the coalition forces today.
And the trainers are from all nations. We have -- for example, today I have a 90-person team assigned to the Air Corps Advisory Group who is hands-on, direct training every day with their counterparts in the Kabul Air Wing and the Air Corps General Staff. We also have four pilots that fly MI-17 aircraft with the National Army Air Corps. And I have two pilots that fly the Antonov aircraft and two flight engineers, both on an MI-17 and an Antonov aircraft.
So that training that we provide directly in the cockpit is very valuable for them, to develop those tactics, techniques and procedures and their ability to employ effectively and integrate with the International Security Force battlespace.
In addition, we have stood up the Kabul Air Corps Training Center, and we have graduated to date nearly 300 personnel through basic formal education courses. These are logistics courses, maintenance courses, MI-17 maintenance courses, for example. And so we are well under way in developing training capability for this Air Corps.
Q     Sir, it's Donna Miles, American Forces Press Service. Could you please describe the kinds of missions that the Air Corps is performing, and how, as the Air Corps grows, you'd like to expand on those missions?
GEN. LINDELL: Okay. Colonel, again if you could repeat the question. It's not coming in very clear at all from the audience.
COL. KECK: Okay, sure. Yes. That's the question from the Armed Forces Press Service, and she was wondering, you know, what types of missions are the Afghan air corps performing at this time. How would you describe, generally, what they're doing and the kinds of things that they're capable of accomplishing?
GEN. LINDELL: Yes, the air corps are performing both helicopter and the fixed-wing cargo aircraft mobility missions at this time. And those missions include medevac support. They include casualty evacuation. They include general logistic support and general battlefield mobility.
The month of August, we flew over 100,000 kilograms of cargo in direct support of the national army. We flew nearly 7,000 passengers and we have been flying nearly 8,000 passengers since the month of June and July in direct support of the national army. These passengers are soldiers that had graduated from training courses, soldiers on leave, new recruits, soldiers that need to be transferred from one regional corps to another.
So we have picked up an enormous load of capability. And that capability, just one year ago, the International Security Assistance Forces were flying nearly 90 percent of the passenger load for the national army.
Today, this air corps flies 90 percent of that passenger load, so a significant capability.
They are also flying 800 sorties a month. And I'm proud to say during the month of August, they performed 50 medevac missions, that is, the combined medevac and casualty evacuation missions for the national army.
We have a growing capability. We continue to grow every month and progress. And, but this air corps is providing capability to the army to, and when I say the army, it's also, I must say, the police forces who are part of the national security forces of this country. So they are providing direct capability and to assist operations today.
COL. KECK: David.
Q     This is David Morgan from Reuters.
Can you tell us please what your longer-term goals are, in terms of the size and scope of the Afghan air force? And if the Afghan army is expected now to double in size, how does that affect your mission?
GEN. LINDELL: Okay. I think I understood your question well enough to answer.
Long-term, this national army air corps will go to approximately 125 aircraft. That includes both the helicopter and the fixed-wing assets that we will develop.
The personnel numbers will grow to about 7,500, according to our campaign plan. As the national army grows to increase its strength, we have accelerated the development of the rotary wing force, and we have purchased 10 more rotary-wing aircraft faster, with an acceleration plan than we had just a few months ago due to the accelerated growth from the 80,000 approved number to the 122,000 approved end strength of the national army. So this air corps will grow and expand its capability as the national army grows.
COL. KECK: Daphne, go ahead.
Q     This is Daphne Benoit again for Agence France-Presse. Can you give us a sense of when the Afghan air corps will have the skill and the equipment to perform close air support?
GEN. LINDELL: Again, Colonel, that question was just unclear. Could you repeat it for me, please?
COL. KECK: Yes, sir. That was Daphne, again, from AFP. And she was wondering when in your estimation the Afghan air corps would be able to complete and accomplish close air support missions.
GEN. LINDELL: Okay; 2011 is a benchmark year for the development of this air corps. At that time, we plan to have this air corps fully operational, capable and independent for the mobility mission sets. And as I stated, the mobility mission sets are the medevac capability, it includes general logistic support and battlefield movement or mobility.
We will further develop the air corps in the outyears in a campaign plan that takes us through 2016. At that time, we will develop the intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance capability that's needed for the counterinsurgency fight and we will develop an attack capability for this air corps.
And this air corps will be trained to do the close-air-support missions just that the -- just like the coalition forces provide to the national army today.
So it is very much a long-term effort. It takes us through the next eight years. But even then, this air corps will not -- it will not stabilize. It will continue to grow and develop and develop more capability beyond our current campaign plan.
COL. KECK: Donna?
Q     Colonel, what are the big challenges that you face, where -- I'm trying to put in perspective building an air corps. Maybe you can draw some parallels of other air corps that have built and how long it's taken, to put this eight-year time frame into perspective.
GEN. LINDELL: Colonel, I understood challenges, but could you repeat that question again? That was unclear from the audience.
Q     Yes, sir. That was AFPS again asking what are your biggest challenges in this effort to progress the air corps down in your timeline to 2016?
GEN. LINDELL: Okay, good question, yes. The biggest challenge we have is development of leadership -- and leadership that is knowledgeable on how to employ air power; leadership that will make decisions, take initiative; leadership that enforces standards, holds subordinates accountable -- and development of professionalism and discipline throughout the national army air corps.
And we can provide a lot of infrastructure training, acquire the right aircraft.
But it's the Afghan leadership and their ability to command and control this air corps, knowledgeable about airpower, is our biggest challenge. And we continue to work hard every day with this air corps. We model professionalism. We model discipline to them and we teach them the concepts of airpower.
Q     To follow on…
Can we put this in perspective, your eight-year time frame? How does that parallel some other efforts that have been done historically, in building an air corps from scratch?
GEN. LINDELL: And again Colonel, I just need a repeat. I'm sorry there. The audience questions are slightly garbled.
COL. KECK: Okay, sir. Yes, she was just wondering if you could put it in perspective, your effort compared to another effort like this that you may be aware of, historically, to try to bring, build an air corps from actually, you know, non-existence.
GEN. LINDELL: Okay, and compare this effort to -- say that again. What am I going to compare it to?
COL. KECK: Sir, if you have any knowledge of an effort like this that has been undertaken by anyone else, in history or in time, to try to build an air corps from no capability whatsoever, how would you place your efforts, as far as how well that's going compared to other situations, if you know of any?
GEN. LINDELL: Okay, got it.
Yes, we have studied other air forces that were engaged in similar counterinsurgency efforts. We studied the efforts in Colombia for example. We studied the efforts in Algeria and the Philippines. This was efforts to make sure that we acquire the right capabilities designed to fight a counterinsurgency. And we are actually starting from scratch, as you pointed out.
This is really a few aircraft, ashes of an air corps, remnants of an air corps that we had very little to start with, which is sometimes a better starting place, so we can get it right as we start. And these other countries' air forces, we've studied. We think we've got the right plan. We've got the right acquisition of the right type of equipment as we go forth and develop this air corps for this fight.
COL. KECK: Daphne, go ahead.
Q     Hi, this is Daphne Benoit again, with AFP. Can you talk to us about recruiting? Do you have any issues with attracting new potential pilots for this Air Corps? And I well remember the current corps pilots in Afghanistan, is -- I mean, as an average -- how do you say that? It's quite senior, let’s say. So, yeah, are you succeeding in attracting young future pilots?
GEN. LINDELL: And again, Colonel, if I could get a repeat there.
COL. KECK: No problem, sir. The last time you were with us you mentioned your pilot base and Daphne's wondering how you're doing on recruiting, especially since it seemed like last time you told us that you have some very senior pilots in your pilot base. And she was wondering if you were able to recruit younger individuals into the program that would show -- give you capability for a longer career line. How's your recruiting effort going?
GEN. LINDELL: Right. We've had great success on our pilot candidate recruiting. We have right now designated 20 graduates from the national military Afghan academy that will graduate next March. And we have screened them medically. We've given them flight aptitude exams and tested their English comprehension levels. So we have 20 designated from the academy that will graduate next March.
In addition, we are actively recruiting 28 more pilot candidates from the national army. We are targeting principally those officers that are already commissioned who are recommended by their commanders, who volunteer and want to fly with the national army air corps, who have university degrees, who have passed the medical screening exam. And they'll be further evaluated with a flight aptitude exam and English comprehension level.
Right now, we have 85 candidates recruited from the national army. We expect that number to grow, as we will also target some candidates from universities. They -- these are candidates obviously that aren't commissioned, but we can go through an officer candidate commissioning program here in Afghanistan and then bring them on to be pilot candidates.
So it is actually going very well. We will send a total of 48 pilot candidates to the United States next year for training, and then followed by the next year 48 more.
So, we are well under way. We have a developed training program. Both the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy is helping us out in this regards. And this is the bright future of Afghanistan. This is this new group of young officers that will become pilots for their air corps, and they'll be trained to Western standards. And so, things are going well.
COL. KECK: Luis?
Q     General, risking a translation here. This is Luis Martinez of ABC News. Do you foresee a fighter-bomber capability -- how far into the future for the Afghan air corps, so that they could provide close air support for their forces and our forces?
GEN. LINDELL: Okay. I think I understood enough of your question to answer it. Yes, we are developing a close air support capability. We do plan to bring on initially an intelligence surveillance reconnaissance capability in the year 2011. We are still researching how we're going to do that. But 2011 is our targeting year. We want to build the architecture of an information operation system, a net-centric capability much like the U.S. Air Force would fight.
And we'll work that system for a period of two years, and we'll also develop -- similar to the Air Force Joint Tactical Air Controllers, we will develop an ATAC, an Afghan Tactical Air Controller capability, so that by year 2013 we have both developed the ATACs, the Afghan ATACs, and the ISR architecture. And then we will bring on a light attack capability, the kinetic weapons capability, in year 2013.
And that will take, obviously, a couple of years to develop until they are independent, capable of independent operations. But we will model how we do it in the U.S. Air Force, which is obviously the best in the world at doing close air support, and we will teach them how they -- how we do it. And I tell you, the Afghans -- in everything we do teach them, they learn very quickly and I expect the same here in a close air support mission.
COL. KECK: Okay, sir. It looks like we have exhausted all of the curiosity today from the press corps here. So, I am going to turn it back over to you for any closing remarks or any information that you think might be valuable to us, given the questions you've had.
So, let's go back to you, sir, for your final comments.
GEN. LINDELL: Okay. I've -- like I stated earlier, I've been in Afghanistan for over a year.
I will be leaving in two weeks, on my way back to the Pentagon for duty. But this has been a very rewarding and a very enjoyable assignment.
And I work -- it's a great mission. I work with a great team of people. The people are soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and I have some coalition partners from Canada, as long as -- as well as our Reserve and Guard component and our civilians that are all part of this team also. But they're highly dedicated, highly professional. They work very hard.
It's just a pleasure working with the Afghans. They're warriors at heart. They want to do this mission. They want a national air corps. They want to provide security for their country. And it's just a great opportunity for all to work here.
And I appreciate the time very much to answer your questions tonight.
COL. KECK: Sir, thank you again, and we wish you a safe trip back home, and we'll see you in the halls of the Pentagon.
Thank you much for coming, folks.
GEN. LINDELL: Okay. Thank you very much. Out from Kabul.
AT 202-347-1400.