Afghan Air Force (AAF) Commander Abdul Wahab Wardak on Wednesday confirmed that the AFF is now providing major air support for ground troops in four of the country's most insecure provinces, including Badakhshan, Kunduz, Ghazni and Zabul. The commander said the AAF has not needed assistance from foreign forces in its recent operations.
According to Commander Wardak, 18 AAF helicopters are currently deployed in the field, helping cover Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers and Afghan National Police (ANP) personnel sweeping through a number of provinces on a large-scale counter-offensive aimed at putting militant groups back on their heels.
"Afghan Air Force units are deployed in eight zones right now, and there are enough helicopters to provide support to the military operations going on in Badakhshan, Zabul, Ghazni and Kunduz provinces," Wardak said on Wednesday.
But Afghan security officials have said that training more pilots and securing more aircrafts for the AAF is crucial, as better air support would mean less ground troop casualties, which have steadily increased in recent years. Currently, the NATO alliance is leading up the training and equipping of the AAF.
Six American helicopters have been provided for training to the Afghan forces. "These fighter helicopters contain two machine guns and each one of them has 600 bullets including a mortar," one Afghan pilot told TOLOnews.
The AAF's arsenal of combat helicopters is expected to increase to 17 by the end of this year. In total, the U.S. has pledged more than 20 military helicopters to Afghanistan, but the exact date for their delivery remains unconfirmed. In addition, India recently committed four cargo helicopters to the Afghan Air Force.
"Promises have been made to provide us cargo and fighter helicopters by November, including support and light aircraft," Commander Wardak said. "We have also dispatched pilots and technical personnel to the U.S., and they have been trained well and conducted flights."
The AAF helicopters are critical carriers on the battlefield not just because they transport Afghan casualties, but also because they are needed to transport militant prisoners that are captured and brought to Bagram jail.
The AAF at the moment has 50 cargo and support aircrafts, including 25 transformational and light planes, and four big cargo aircrafts. The AAF still lacks medium-range cargo aircraft.