The Combined Air Power Transition Force: Building Airpower for Afghanistan

By Boera, Michael R. | Air & Space Power Journal, Spring 2010 | Go to article overview

The Combined Air Power Transition Force: Building Airpower for Afghanistan


Boera, Michael R., Air & Space Power Journal


What does "airpower" mean in the struggle for Afghanistan's future? An objective perspective of what airpower is and what it can deliver is difficult to find in the US armed forces- rare is the informed military leader who approaches the topic without a strong ideological bent. Gen Stanley McChrystal, the top US commander in Afghanistan, recently said that "air power contains the seeds of our own destruction."1 His accusation was not without merit in his intended context, coming as it did after a missile attack on a residential compound. Because air strikes can kill innocent civilians as well as enemy combatants, the kinetic effects of airpower sometimes aid the efforts of the insurgency that they seek to defeat. The aspects of airpower other than kinetic strike, though, are often the most quickly forgotten in debate.

This other face of airpower carries balloting materials to outlying areas of Afghanistan, granting elections a chance to have broad credibility throughout the country. It affords battlefield mobility to indigenous troops, allowing confrontation with and defeat of insurgents. This kind of airpower provides mobility to Afghan citizens, filling logistical gaps that the budding commercial market struggles to meet. It welcomes young people into the service of their nation, giving them a reason to strive for excellence in working for government organizations that have awakened to new, promising days after three bleak decades of uninterrupted armed struggle.

In any discussion of "airpower" in Afghanistan, there is reason for caution in painting all of its forms with a single broad brush. Evidence for airpower 's effectiveness exists in one of the most exciting and rewarding endeavors in which the US Air Force and its joint-service partners participate today. Most people know that an international coalition is partnering with the nation of Afghanistan. The shared goal calls for strengthening Afghanistan's national institutions while reducing the influence and capabilities of insurgents who want to see that country returned to a state of chaos. Fewer people know about the full range of actions that our Airmen are contributing toward lasting security in Afghanistan. Airpower capabilities rising from their efforts are sowing the seeds of a brighter future there.

The Combined Air Power Transition Force (CAPTF), part of the international community's effort to rebuild Afghanistan's national institutions, features three supporting pillars that focus on governance, security, and socioeconomic development.2 International agreements have established the United States as the lead nation for instituting reform in Afghanistan's security forces, and the CAPTF is part of the military organization led by the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) that works with Afghanistan's military and police leaders to develop sustainable security capabilities.3 The command's mission is straightforward: work alongside Afghan soldiers and airmen to help build a "strong, capable, and sustainable" Afghan National Army Air Corps (ANAAC) that will meet Afghanistan's security requirements.4 The ANAAC is an essential part of the Afghan National Army (ANA), which will play a pivotal role in Afghanistan's fight to provide security for its citizens as long as armed insurgency remains a threat.

Three goals motivate and structure this article. First, I want to share the importance of airpower in Afghanistan's future. Second, I wish to outline the activities with which the CAPTF assists the ANAAC throughout Afghanistan. Third, I would like to share some of the important, impending developments in the realm of Afghan airpower. The evidence suggests that airpower is critical to Afghanistan's struggle for a peaceful existence and that our recent progress puts Afghanistan on the verge of an airpower breakthrough, though one quite different from the image that airpower conjures in the minds of many military leaders. …

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