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Afghan Air Force rescues more than 2,000 during floods

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Paul Birch
  • 438th AEW
Between 8:30 a.m. on July 28 and 6:00 p.m. on July 29, two Mi-17s belonging to the Afghan Air Force rescued over 2,000 Afghan citizens from severe flooding in Nangahar and Kunar provinces. The air crews, mostly Afghans, were led by the Kabul Air Wing Commander, Brigadier General Barat, pictured at left piloting an Mi-17. The rescue effort started to the west of Jalalabad, moving 50 people stranded by flooding to high ground. Flying in poor weather, the crews rescued about 300 by the end of the first day.

The same poor weather prevented return flight to Kabul, so the crews stayed at the AAF Air Detachment at Jalalabad Airfield overnight. Early in the morning of the 29th, the aviators received a call to fly humanitarian assistance missions around Kunar, five miles south of Asadabad. This is a region of ongoing conflict, with a history of surface-to-air fire particularly dangerous to helicopter operations. Working all day with stops only for fuel, the crews rescued over 1,700 local Afghans.

Flight crews were cognizant of Taliban presence throughout the day; flood victims brought routine reports of insurgent fighters' proximity as they were rescued. The National Military Command Center coordinated for Afghan National Police protection for the pick-up points, an effective use of all parts of the Afghan National Security Forces.

Heroism was the norm throughout the operation. A Combined Air Power Transition Force (CAPTF) advisor pilot held one wheel on the side of a bridge while hovering to allow stranded Afghans to board. Another pilot performed a rescue with his Mi-17 submerged to the fuselage. A CAPTF crew chief advisor, U.S. Air Force Master Sergeant Kevin Fife, dove into a swollen river to make a save. The day's record lift saw 64 Afghans carried to safety in a single sortie.

The heroism was enabled by NTM-A's commitment to building air power for Afghanistan. The capability of the new Mi-17V5's, which are able to fly in poor weather and load passengers through aft doors, was indispensable. The Afghan Air Force, coming to the rescue when village elders and local Taliban could not, demonstrates what the government of Afghanistan can do for its people.