Brussels The need for air mobility and air support for Afghan forces is proving to be a vital concern in continued combat with Taliban militants, NATO officials and others told reporters at the Alliance’s recent ministerial meetings. Acting Afghan Defense Minister Masoom Stanekzai, visiting Brussels to speak with NATO defense ministers, said the Afghan military’s “biggest emphasis” will be building up its air forces, both combat and transport, in order to “support our forces on the ground properly,” he told reporters June 25. Stanekzai said he is giving a lot of focus to making sure qualified and trained pilots can fly both helicopters and aircraft to support combat operations, saying the Afghan military has a “major need” in this area. “It should receive more attention, with training and more resources,” he added. A senior NATO policy official, speaking on background during the ministerial, told Air Force Magazine the Afghan military has proved it is able to push back the Taliban in certain areas, but logistics and sustainment continue to be a challenge, something that is particularly acute with airpower. While the largely US-led plan to get the Afghan air force up to basic capability by 2017 is “more or less on track,” the NATO official added, the Afghans are adjusting to not having as much air assistance from the allies with the lower troop presence in country. From evacuation to close air support, “the Afghans saw how useful in overmatch air support is … so this emphasis on the requirement for transport and attack aircraft is something that has struck them significantly as the result of the end of ISAF support,” he added.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.