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DoD News Briefing with Brig. Gen. Givhan from Afghanistan

Presenters: Commander, Combined Air Power Transition Force-Afghanistan Brig. Gen. Walter Givhan
August 12, 2009

MODERATOR:  Good morning to the press corps.  This is, by way of introduction, Brigadier General Walter Givhan, the commanding general of Combined Air Power Transition Force in Afghanistan.  

 

         General Givhan took command in September of last year and as such is responsible for assisting the government of Afghanistan as it develops, equips and trains the Afghan National Army Air Corps. Today, he comes to us from Kabul at the headquarters of the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.  

 

         And General, we want to thank you for taking the time to be with us this morning, for providing us with an overview of what your command is doing and for taking some of our questions.  So with that, let me turn it over to you.  

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  Well, thank you very much.  And it's a pleasure to be with you this morning.  I appreciate the chance to be able to talk to you a little bit about what we are doing in Afghanistan, particularly in my team's part of this, with the development of the Afghan National Army Air Corps.  

 

             But if I could, I'd like to put that in context first, because we are part of the Combined Security Transition Command of Afghanistan, which is a joint coalition command that is really a partner with both the Afghan Ministry of Defense as well as the Ministry of Interior. And we're working together for a common goal here, which is really the development of the Afghan national security forces.  And we bring all the parts together to be able to do that, and we think that's very key, because really the -- perhaps the best way to fight this insurgency is to enable the Afghans to fight it themselves.  So we participate in that particular mission by helping to build sustainable capacity and capability within the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

 

         Now my particular part of this and my team's part of this has to do with the Afghan National Army Air Corps, which is part of the Afghan National Army.  This is an exciting mission because literally we're rebuilding this from the ground up, after years of war had devastated the capability that they had.  

 

         It's especially important in Afghanistan, because as you can see just by looking at a map, this country really needs air.  And why does it need air?  It needs air because of vast distances -- it's a country about the size of Texas -- forbidding terrain, the Hindu Kush Mountains right in the middle of the country and spreading throughout; a road system that is still in development and immature in many areas; really a lack of rail, almost completely, across the country; and then of course a threat you're very familiar with, the improvised explosive device threat.  For all these reasons, the country is in great need of air.

 

         And so this is one of ways in which the Afghan National Army Air Corps provides a much-needed capability, and of course we participate in helping to develop that capability. 

 

         Now this is a comprehensive effort.  It involves not just acquiring aircraft and training pilots and the people that maintain aircraft, but it's across everything -- so infrastructure; the development of a logistics system; the training of all the people who work within the air corps, whether it's firefighters, maintainers, anybody who has a role in building air power for Afghanistan; and, of course, a key part of this, command and control.

 

             Now, our approach has really been twofold, when you boil it down to its essence.  First, they have a war.  They need to participate, they need to contribute immediately to that war.  So we've got to get them in the fight in the short term, which we've been successful doing, and we've been successful doing that in two ways.  One, they have an existing corps of pilots who had a great deal of experience and capability.  We've brought those guys back in.  

 

         And then, the second part of that, we gave them the aircraft they know how to fly.  So, previously they've been flying a lot of Russian aircraft; we actually went out and acquired and also had aircraft donated to us, more Russian aircraft, be they Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters, or An-32 transports.  That will enable us to get them right in the fighting.  They're making contributions, as we speak, to this ongoing fight.

 

         At the same time, we need to build them for the long term.  So, simultaneously with these efforts to conduct operations and keep them in the fight, we're also doing all of the things that you would do to build the air force -- or the air corps for the long term, to include infrastructure development that I've talked about earlier, putting modern bases in the various locations where we think it's best for them to operate from, buying the newer aircraft -- and I'll talk more about that later, where we'll see the first C-27s, for example, show up this fall.  

 

         Training pilots.  We have a substantial number of pilot candidates in the United States, who are going through language training and then pilot training, as well as a substantial number of experienced pilots who are getting additional language training and will be getting their instrument rating to be part of the C-27 cadre that will come in.  And also, developing all of those parts of an air corps, be it command and control, the logistics, et cetera, into mature systems that will enable to them to sustain their air corps for the long term.  

 

         It comes down to our basic mission.  We are here to build a strong, capable and sustainable Afghan National Army Air corps that meets the security requirements for this country.  We're not trying to recreate the U.S. Air Force.  We're not trying to recreate Army Aviation here.  We're not try to to recreate the Royal Air Force or any other air force.  This is about an air corps that is tailored meet the needs and demands of Afghanistan at the same time that it is modern, interoperable and sustainable, capable of working with the rest of the security forces in this country, performing joint and coalition operations and ultimately integrated into that global community of those who fly around the world.

 

        That's our long-term goal.

 

         And with that, I'd like to open it up to your questions.

 

         MODERATOR:  Well, General, thanks for that overview, and we'll get started here.

 

         Let's start with Daphne.

 

         Q     Good morning.  This is Daphne Benoit from Agence France- Presse.  There's a lot of talks right now about maybe training many more Afghan security forces than currently planned.  So if that global goal is raised, would that include also training more Afghans for the national air corps that you're currently training by 2016?  And if you get any figures for us?

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  Yeah, I apologize, I'm having a little bit of difficulty hearing the questions.  If I understand that properly, you are asking about the numbers and whether we're building up that even more.

 

         The short answer is that we are looking at accelerating the capability of the Afghan National Army Air Corps as quickly as possible.  Right now we have about 2,700 airmen -- or Afghan National Army Air Corps airmen currently in the corps.  We're -- our goal right now is to build to around 7,250 airmen in 2016, along with a fleet of 139 aircraft.

 

         Now, as we look at potential expansion opportunities as we participate in this, look at how big the forces should get, we are looking at whether that would involve perhaps adding some more and perhaps going -- we -- right now our plan involves two wings.  Could that possibly include a third wing in addition to the various detachments around the country?  All this we're going through right now.  

 

         But again, it's all geared to see, well, what do we really think that they need in order to be able to do the things that they're -- and to perform those air functions that their security forces need?

 

         Q     If I may follow up, is the goal still for the Afghan air corps to be self-sufficient by 2015?

 

             GEN. GIVHAN:  Oh, okay.  I think -- yeah, I got it.  Do we think it will be self-sufficient?  Yes.  That is our goal, is by 2016 to have an air corps that will be capable of doing those operations and the things that it needs to do to meet security requirements of this country.

 

         Now, that won't necessarily involve every single particular function that you might see in some air forces around the world.  And I think the long-term goal beyond that envisions a continued partnership with the Afghan National Army Air Corps to help it develop its capabilities and, as it is -- its situation changes, perhaps to be able to add more capability to address whatever challenges -- security challenges that it may face.

 

         MODERATOR:  Lara, go ahead.

 

         Q     Hi, General.  This is Lara Jakes from the Associated Press.  Can you hear me clearly?

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  Yes, I can hear you.

 

         Q     Thank you.  Two questions for you.  One, do the Afghan Air Corps abide by the directives that General McChrystal issued earlier this year regarding the use of airstrikes?  And can you talk a little bit, if so, how you train them to abide by those, and if not, talk a little bit more about that?

 

         And then also, I'm wondering if the use of UAVs comes into play with the Afghan Air Corps and if they have -- how close to the Pak border they go and if they have any permission to go into Pak airspace.

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  I clearly heard the first part of the question, so let me address that one first, and then I'll follow up on the second part.  You were asking about the -- whether the Afghan Air Corps adheres to the tactical directive that General McChrystal issued.  And yes, of course it does.  

 

         Now, I have to tell you -- and it really relates to the second part of that first question -- that we are still developing the capability for them to employ force in an attack capability.  Right now their role is primarily mobility, and that takes two forms:  the fixed-wing airlift that goes, for example, from the -- from Kabul to Herat and is performed at this point by the An-32, soon to be the C-27, and then battlefield mobility, which is afforded by -- primarily by the Mi-17 helicopter. 

 

             Now, those Mi-17s are armed.  They have machine guns.  So in this instance, they're fully briefed on the tactical directive.  We conduct training.  We fly with them.  

 

         We fly with them both as pilots, side by side with our Afghan counterparts.  We have crew members in the back.  We have aerial gunners who work with the Afghan gunners and train them.  And the tactical directive is part of all this.  

 

         Now, an important thing that's just about to happen, for the Afghan National Army Air Corps, is that the Mi-35 attack helicopters mentioned earlier are about to achieve their initial operational capability, which is to say we'll actually be sending those into combat situations very soon.  

 

         This has been part of a very deliberate training regimen that we have created for them.  And then with the help of our Czech partners, who are part of our team and who have been flying as instructor pilots with the Afghans, that we've taken them through an entire syllabus, to include training on rules of engagement and when they can shoot and when they can't shoot, to get them ready for this.  

 

         Also the roles that they will initially take on will not be full- fledged, close air support type roles but will be a little bit simpler roles having to do with escort and reacting to being fired upon.  But still of course the tactical directive applies there.  And we're very rigorous in our approach to that, in working with them, to make sure that they understand it and they respect it, just as our own forces respect it.  

 

         I think the second part of your question had to do with -- please correct me, if I'm wrong -- having to do with whether they ventured into Pakistan air space.  In that case, we don't go into Pakistan air space.  And we've got -- we respect their sovereignty in that regard. And we've had no missions that would take us there either accidentally or purposefully.  

 

         MODERATOR:  This is Bryan Whitman.  Let me help clarify the second part.  Maybe you can add to your answer there.  Actually it had to do with UAVs and what the design or plan might be, for the Afghan National Army Air Corps, with respect to UAVs.  

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  Oh, I understand the question now.  Thank you very much.  I appreciate the clarification.  

 

         Right now, UAVs are not part of that capability that we're envisioning for them.  However, I think it fits into that category of things that, as we continue to develop and we get the basics down, that we look at adding to their portfolio.  

 

         And in that regard, let me mention that I just recently accompanied the commander of the Afghan National Army Air Corps, Major General Mohammad Dawran, on his trip to the United States.  He was the guest of General Schwartz, the chief of staff of the Air Force.  

 

         And among the things that we went to see was, we actually went out to Creech Air Force Base, Nevada, and looked at the Predator operations, the remote operations that are going on there.  He was very impressed with that capability.  

 

         Now, we are looking at, though -- I should say, although not in the form of UAVs -- we're very much looking at, you know, an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability being part of some of the platforms that we're considering, the aircraft we're considering right now as we look at short-term acquisitions in the next few years, because obviously that capability, I think, is important to any force.  But we're looking at it in a manned form right now versus the unmanned form.  

 

         However, as I mentioned with General Dawran, he was very taken by what we were doing with Predators.  And so we'll continue to look at that as a possible addition to the portfolio.  

 

         Q     A follow-up, sir.  With the ISRs, would they be flying the Mi-17s for those missions, or what aircraft would they be flying for ISR?

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  For intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, right now, like I said, we're looking more at whether some of the platforms -- these were fixed-wing platforms that we're looking at that would have a lot more loiter time, which you really like to have with an ISR platform, the ability to loiter, to look at something for a while.  

 

         So as we look at a variety of turboprop aircraft, for example, and we see which one of them -- most of them, right now, I'll just tell you that, you know, this adaptable capability, strapping on an ISR capability, is prevalent on most of the platforms that we're considering at this point, and that was one of the capabilities that we wanted, and in fact that we're actually looking for as part of -- as we consider those fixed-wing platforms for short-term acquisition.

 

         Q     Thank you.

 

         MODERATOR:  Donna, you're up.

 

         Q     Yes.  You'll probably have to repeat.  I'll try.  

 

         Sir, this is Donna Miles from the American Forces Press Service. I'm curious what role the Afghan Army Air Corps has in support of efforts right now to secure more of Afghanistan with the roll-up to the elections, particularly what's happening today in RC South.  

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  Can I ask for just a little help from the podium in paraphrasing that?

 

         MODERATOR:  The question pertains to the role of the air forces -- the air corps right now, particularly in the runup to the elections, and security operations currently today.

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  Yes.  And I think I heard RC South on the end of that.  So yeah, I think I've got that now.

 

         Thank you for the question.  The air corps has been very heavily involved in the runup to elections in several ways.  One of the big ways, and it's sort of an interesting role for them, but it was one that they were tasked for by the national government, was to provide transportation to all of the presidential candidates as they were -- tried to go around the country to address the people.  

 

         So like I said, it's been a fascinating mission to have that coordinated and to be able to set that up.  And they've done a good job of doing that, of transporting the candidates around the country.

 

         Obviously, a second role with -- is in terms of the materials that actually have to be transported, and the air corps has a role in that as well.  Many people are involved in the transportation of election materials, but the air corps, as part of its national tasking, has also received a role in moving materials about.  And as I mentioned earlier, obviously, with roads and some of the threats around here, air, from a vantage point of both safety and security and speed, really makes a lot of sense in that regard.

 

         Finally, the air corps has a security role, which relates to working with all of the other players in the security apparatus, be they the Afghan National Police or the Afghan National Army, to ensure that we've got good security both in the leadup to and on election day itself.  They will be involved in a lot of security operations.

 

         You talked about RC South.  The air corps is deployed to support the regional land corps all over the country.  So we actually have helicopters deployed full-time down in Kandahar, which we are -- will very soon be standing up as an air wing for the air corps down there as well.  Obviously, a very important base in the south that helps us support all the operations that are down there.

 

         One thing I would like to add, too, because it relates to that role in elections and how we support the elections, is, the air corps has a role that is really broader than some particular -- some air arms might have, in that, when directed by the Ministry of Defense and the authorities, it supports civil authorities in Afghanistan at all levels.

 

             So for example, recently there was flooding up in -- a few months ago, up in the north.  And the air corps dispatched four Mi-17 helicopters in the course of a few weeks; airlifted over 1,500 people to safety, out of flooding conditions up in the north.  Similarly, the air corps often finds itself actually carrying Afghan national police or border police, when called upon.  So it has a very broad mandate, as far as its mission is concerned, in support of Afghanistan.

 

         MODERATOR:  Albert?

 

         Q     Yeah.  General, this is Al Pessin from Voice of America. If I could follow up on that, could you be more specific?  Are there Afghan Air Corps units that are in the fight in Helmand?

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  Yeah, I would say that our operations, to be characterized in a more general sense without getting into specifics -- that Kandahar, you know, is basically the base out of which we operate, but we are operating all over the southern part of Afghanistan right now, depending upon the mission.

 

         Now, I have to tell you, of course, that the air corps, with the limited assets that it has right now, is very deliberate about these operations.  And we work together well with them.  And in several cases, coalition aircraft, for example, have provided attack escort for Mi-17s, because that capability, as I mentioned earlier, is just now developing with the Mi-35s.

 

         So with the scarce assets we have right now, with just the 36 total aircraft, although we will build up to 139 by 2016, we naturally want to make sure that we're using those in a very deliberate and the best way that we can use them, and to mitigate the risk to them when we can.  But, yes, they are conducting operations over the entire south.

 

         Q     And can I also follow up on Lara's question about UAVs? Why is it that UAVs are not currently part of the plan?  I'm certainly not an expert in these things, but my understanding is that UAVs are easier to learn how to fly, and it would seem that it might be possible to get more UAVs in the air quicker than to get manned aircraft in the air, especially fixed-wing.

 

             GEN. GIVHAN:  Yeah.  Well, I think -- because you have to look at what they're trying to accomplish right now.  And the biggest priority, as I mentioned earlier, is mobility.  That is overwhelming. We cannot meet the demand for mobility right now.  And currently, of course, there's no UAV asset that can perform that mobility mission. So that has to be the focus right now.

 

         As we move out a little bit further, the next thing is to be able to -- we have to -- we have to establish the training capability that we need to get indigenous pilot training in Afghanistan.  We're working on that right now.  Because it's really better to learn where you -- to learn to fly where you're going to fly and fight.  

 

         So establishing that training capability -- because, really, as I mentioned earlier, we've had to depend upon this older group of pilots right now to sustain this air corps.  And average age is around 45. And there really was nothing -- there's nothing behind that.  So bringing along that pilot capability behind that so that we can man the helicopters, the transports that we need, and of course the attack helicopters to help protect the helicopters, that's really the priority right now.

 

         I do agree with you that the UAVs represent something that will be a great capability that we should look more at.  We just -- we're concentrating on the basics a little more right now.  

 

         MODERATOR:  Okay.  I know we have reached the end of our time, and we do want to be respectful of that time.  But before we bring it to a close, I'd like to give you one more opportunity, in case there's something that we didn't have a chance to touch on or any final thoughts that you might have.

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  I'm sorry, were you asking for another question, or were you turning it over to me for final thoughts?

 

         MODERATOR:  I was turning it over to you for any final thoughts that you might have.

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  Oh, thank you very much.  Well, let me bring this to a little bit more personal level in the sense that I think this mission, the almost -- I've been here now 11 months, so I've really been immersed in this mission.  

 

        And it's an exciting mission.  This building partnership capacity that we've been able to do here, it's not us coming in and telling them this is the way you do it.  It begins with a conversation.  And it truly is a partnership.  

 

         And I think, one, it has allowed me to apply a lot of the things that through my training, education and experience that I've learned and to come here and share, almost like a final exam of sorts.  But it also has been a fantastic learning opportunity.  

 

         And one of the things I've really been struck by is that's been true for all of us involved in this mission.  And my -- the younger guys have had an experience -- not just a cultural experience in terms of working with someone from a different country and a different culture and on a common problem, but it's the scale, the scope of the authority and the responsibility that they've had as they work with their Afghan counterparts to rebuild this capability has been extraordinary.  And so it's really a rewarding, fulfilling mission and an exciting mission that we've all learned a lot from and we continue to learn from every day here.

 

         MODERATOR:  Well, General, thank you.  And given the interest that we've had here, we hope that maybe in a couple of more months, few more months, we can have you back.

 

         GEN. GIVHAN:  It would be my pleasure.  I thank you all for your time and attention this morning.  And thank you for your interest in our mission, which, as you can tell, I'm pretty excited about.

 

         MODERATOR:  Thank you. 

 

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