About the Afghan Air Force

of AAF

The origins of the Afghan Air Force trace back to 1921 under the reign of King Amanullah Khan, when he established the Royal Afghan Air Force. A bi-plane, the Avro 504, was one of the first aircraft to be used by the new aerial power. For the purposes of our organization, we fast-forward to Operation Enduring Freedom when the United States entered Afghanistan in late 2001 in pursuit of the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations in what would be known as the Global War on Terror. When the Taliban were ousted from power by U.S. led coalition forces, all that remained in the Afghan Air Force were a few Russian made helicopters.

AAF members

In 2005, the U.S. military commenced and led an international effort to rebuild the Afghan Air Force, which at one time was replete with jet fighters, bombers, and attack helicopters. In 2008, President Hamid Karzai presided over the inaugural ceremony commissioning the new Air Wing Headquarters adjacent to Kabul International Airport. The United States supplied fixed and rotor wing aircraft as part of the rebuild, and in 2009, the first Afghan pilots deployed to the United States to begin language training, instrument training, and undergraduate pilot training on a variety of military bases in Texas, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Oklahoma, Florida, New Mexico, and Arkansas. Many came from the Air Force Academy of Afghanistan and the National Military Academy of Afghanistan – modeled after the U.S. Army’s West Point. Most went to the United States on multiple deployments comprising years away from families and country as America’s biggest allies in the Global War on Terror. Funded by U.S. taxpayers, the Afghan aviation personnel received the same training as their American military counterparts. They lived on U.S. bases and traveled around the country during time off from busy training schedules.

By early 2011, the Afghan Air Force had 44 rotary-wing and 13 fixed-wing aircraft in its arsenal. The country, comprised of mostly rugged terrain, relied on airlift of soldiers and supplies, medical and casualty evacuation, and transport of human remains. By late October 2011, the Afghan Air Force awaited the arrival of 145 multi-type aircraft and 21 additional helicopters and had grown to a total of 4,900 airmen and personnel.

By 2016, the Afghan Air Force had almost doubled in size with continued expansion in infrastructure, training and maintenance facilities, and the purchase of additional airframes, including Russian Mi 17 helicopters, MD 530 helicopters, UH 60 helicopters, and fixed-wing such as C 130’s, Cessna 182 and 208’s. Afghan pilots continued to train in the United States, and many returned for second and third deployments. Over the course of the next few years, the Afghan Air Force grew to over 10,000 men and women and incorporated a new fleet of A 29 single engine, light-attack aircraft designed for the terrain of Afghanistan.


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The day-to-day resilience of the Afghan Air Force members was unmatched. Flying and working in hostile environments while dealing with “normal” home life issues spoke volumes of their character. They were dedicated professionals. The Afghan Air Force quickly learned technical skills, in a second language, in a foreign land, under a different culture. And they excelled when they could have easily rested and not been prepared. They had integrity and a desire to serve their nation. It was an honor to serve beside them.

Major Matthew “SMOKY” Clayton, USAF (Ret’d)
438th Air Expeditionary Wing (Now a Pilot with Delta Air Lines)
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Working closely with the Afghan Air Force was the most rewarding experience of my 20-year military career. I had the privilege of witnessing firsthand their dedication, bravery, and determination each and every day. Their skill and professionalism were vital in solving complex problems and achieving historic results. I know that these character traits will serve them well in their future endeavors.

Lt Col Johnnie Green, USAF (Ret)
Commander, 438th AES, 2017-2018, Hamid Karzai Intl Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan
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The Afghan student pilots we trained were highly motivated. They knew what was at stake, and it drove them to excel. They learned quickly, respected their instructors, and did everything we asked of them. What more could you want?

Michael Barg
i3 Instructor Pilot

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