Saturday, September 11, 2010
An estimated eight million people have been left homeless and 1,600 were killed after waves of devastating floods swept across Pakistan in July and August. The same rains that caused the massive flooding also affected western Afghanistan, albeit on a much smaller scale. The international community has pledged millions in humanitarian relief aid to Pakistan, including its neighbour, Afghanistan. For 27 days, a crew of 22 Afghan Air Force, with four MI-17 helicopters, conducted more than 400 rescue and humanitarian missions in Pakistan. The crew helped move more than 2,000 aid works and stranded residents and delivered 188 tons of food, medical equipment and shelter supplies.
A few days ago, we were there at the Kabul International Airport to welcome the crew home from their mission. Their return from Pakistan was remarkable in not only that this poor, war torn country was able to lend a hand to others in need – epitomizing the true nature of the Afghan people – but that they were actually able to do so. The humanitarian relief effort demonstrates how far the Afghan Air Force has come in the past year, and comes shortly after they led rescue missions in their own Laghman province in late July, where crews saved more than 2,100 people from flood waters, many times under the threat of Taliban guns.
Since the NATO Training Mission – Afghanistan command stood up in November 2009, the AAF has grown to almost 5,000 airmen and 50 aircraft. But I think the more impressive factor is that the humanitarian effort was completely Afghan coordinated and executed. Working under President Karzai’s directive, the Afghan Air Force coordinated with the Pakistani government to offer support – no U.S. or NATO help was used, or even needed.
I can't speak for everyone at the airport, but I know for me, watching their hero's welcome was exciting; to see the Afghan Air Force strong and capable enough to stand on their own and knowing that this was a huge step toward an independent and enduring Afghan nation. And maybe a little bit because this was about the Afghan Air Force, a young organization just getting its start. Someday, maybe an Afghan airman will be studying this historical event for a promotion test, knowing that this was the just the beginning of what his (or her!) Air Force was able to offer the world.