ISLAMABAD: As the withdrawal deadline of the US-led forces from Afghanistan approaches, Pakistan has, in principle, agreed to impart training to the Afghan National Air Force, a highly placed source told The Express Tribune.
A billion-dollar contract to this effect will be signed between two private defence contractors of Pakistan and the United States and the Afghan ministry of defence as soon as modalities of the plans are finalised, the source further said, adding, “Almost every issue has been decided except some nitty-gritty.”
Initially, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was approached by the US to find out how it felt about the matter – but keeping in view political issues, high risk and life threats involved, they refused to accept the contract.
Subsequently, the US decided to work around the PAF’s reservations by engaging an Islamabad-based private defence company for the purpose.
It is learnt that the ex-officers and instructors of PAF to be engaged for the purpose will get lucrative salaries plus attractive perks and privileges besides special allowances, proportionate to the risks involved.
Retired PAF instructors will train about 400 Afghan pilots, flight engineers, maintenance and logistics technicians and ground staff at training centres in Kabul. The US wants to hand over the Afghan war to Kabul’s National Armed Forces by 2014 – the year the last of the US-led foreign troops are slated to leave Afghanistan.
According to the plan, the Afghan Air Force fleet will be operational by 2013, with fighter jets, heavy transport aircraft, Russian-made gunships and transport helicopters.
Meanwhile, the US and Nato are reportedly gravely disturbed over the fate of an oil Refinery in Heratan (Balkh Province) – Afghanistan’s border city with Uzbekistan. Training a special unit of the Afghan army and air force for the protection of the oil refinery is also one of the priorities of the foreign forces.
The Afghan pilots will be taught English in Pakistan before joining the flying academy. Teaching English to the Afghan Air Force is said to have turned out to be a formidable task for the US.
It is interesting to note that in June this year, 17 Afghans who had been learning English disappeared from a Texas Air Force Base where they were being trained as fighter pilots. Such incidents have been frequently reported during the last two years.
Pakistani instructors fluent in Pushto will be hired to make it easy for Afghan Air Force cadets to communicate with their English teachers and flying instructors. The Afghan Air Force officers and personnel thus trained by Pakistani instructors will get their advance training by US instructors to enable them to take over the air force and aviation infrastructure to be left behind by the withdrawing US and Nato troops.
The Afghan Air Force was destroyed after the Russian invasion of the country as a large number of Afghan Air Force personnel including pilots either fled Afghanistan or deserted.
The US-led coalition’s bombing campaign neutralised most of what had remained of Afghan air power. Rebuilding efforts began shortly thereafter, but were extremely limited for several years.
Since May 2007, the US-led international Combined Air Power Transition Force (CAPTF) has worked to rebuild and modernise the Afghan air capability, which was renamed the Afghan National Army Air Force in June 2010. The CAPTF serves as the air component of the US-led international Combined Security Transition Command which is responsible for rebuilding the Afghan armed forces.
Sources said Islamabad has also been entrusted with the task of training Afghan National Army officers at its war colleges.
Initially, the Pakistan army was approached by the US for the services of Army instructors to train Afghan soldiers in Afghanistan, but the idea could not materialise for a number of reasons.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 1st, 2010.