Afghan Aviators Make Historic Return to Bagram
By Sgt. Stephanie van Geete, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, April 17, 2006 Afghan National Army Air Corps aviators began training with Task Force Falcon aviators and U.S. Army soldiers here April 11.
Army Col. Michael Rose welcomes Afghan National Army Air Corps aviators as they arrive at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, April 11. Rose commands the coalition's Task Force Falcon. The Afghan aviators will operate with coalition forces during Operation Mountain Lion and beyond. Photo by Sgt. Stephanie van Geete, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The arrival of the 18-person team marks the first assignment of Afghan aviators here in 15 years.
The aviators will use two Russian-made Mi-17 Hip helicopters for training and to move supplies and equipment with coalition forces.
"The goal of this mission is to integrate the Afghan National Army Air Corps into coalition operations," said Army Chief Warrant Officer Tim Basso, an embedded trainer accompanying the Afghan aviators. "The end result is to get the Afghan pilots familiar with the way the coalition does operations, and for the coalition to learn from the Afghan pilots what the tactics for the area are."
Army Col. Michael Rose, the Task Force Falcon commander, said the aviators' arrival came at an opportune time.
"With this training, we can incorporate them into ongoing operations in support of Operation Mountain Lion over the next few weeks, and also as we work together during the remainder of the time that Task Force Falcon is here in Afghanistan," Rose said. "This gives us the opportunity to continue to develop a relationship that will go on past our departure from here."
Many Afghan crewmembers served here previously but departed in the 1990s during Afghanistan's civil war.
"The airfield was the front line of fighting (between the Northern Alliance and Taliban), so most of the pilots stayed away," said ANA Air Corps Capt. Abdullah, a pilot. His last assignment to Bagram was in 1991.
ANA Air Corps pilots Maj. Njamatullah and Capt. Mohammad Naim flew for the Northern Alliance against the Taliban.
The aviators all volunteered to come back to service when the Air Corps was being created last year, and said they are happy to be flying again.
Maj. Bashir, the ANA's liaison officer to Task Force Falcon, said he has seen control of the base pass through many hands, from Afghan government to the Russians, the Northern Alliance, the Taliban and now the United States.
The ANA current mission is a step toward the Afghan government reclaiming control of the airfield, but coalition support is needed, he said.
"Without the help of the coalition, and especially the U.S. and our partnership with Task Force Falcon, we cannot do it," he said.
(Army Sgt. Stephanie van Geete is assigned to the Task Force Falcon Public Affairs Office.)