KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan --- The first two UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters arrived here Oct. 7, welcomed by top Afghan and Resolute Support officials.
Led by President Ashraf Ghani, an official ribbon-cutting ceremony marked the landmark progress of the Afghan Air Force’s modernization effort, and inaugurated the helicopter into their fleet.
Ghani presided over the ceremony and spoke about the new helicopter and pilot training and its impact on the fight against the enemies of the nation, civil order and peace. He addressed attendees and stated Afghanistan is not just a frontline, it’s the first line of defense of democracy and freedom.
“We share the same value of defending freedom, of living without fear. Terrorist of this world should know … they will not thrive here. We will eliminate them,” Ghani said.
Ghani also thanked Resolute Support Commander U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, the U.S. military’s senior leader in Afghanistan, for his sacrifices, dedication and NATO’s work in bringing the Black Hawk to Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan is not only fighting for its own future,” Nicholson said. “You are fighting for humanity’s future. We are with you in this fight and we will stay with you.”
Citing more than 15,000 flown sorties and 9,000 delivered munitions by Afghan airmen, Nicholson highlighted the importance of the Afghan Air Force in defeating the insurgency.
“A tidal wave of Afghan airpower is on the horizon,” Nicholson said, emphasizing that the UH-60 is part of the modernization that will strengthen the force sustainably into the future. “The momentum has shifted, and it is irreversible.”
Together with NATO and coalition partners, Nicholson said, the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces will continue to make strides toward critical war-fighting capabilities needed in defeating the insurgency.
The UH-60A has been selected to enhance the AAF helicopter fleet and will augment the capabilities currently offered by the Mi-17 for a stable, reliable improvement of the force.
Modernization will provide better capabilities for air missions supporting ANDSF operations throughout Afghanistan and increased interoperability with allied forces.
The event culminated with a ceremonial signing of certificates that officially completed the transfer of the first Black Hawks from the U.S. military into the Afghan Air Force fleet.
The signatories of the document included Maj. Gen. Mohammad Shoaib, Afghan Air Force commander, and U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Phillip Stewart, commander of 438th Air Expeditionary Wing and Train, Advise, Assist Command – Air, who work shoulder-to-shoulder in building Afghan Air Force capabilities.
“Airpower has proven too be a force multiplier in the war in Afghanistan,” Stewart said. “The arrival of these first UH-60 Black Hawk heralds in a new era. The international community … remains committed to our Afghan partners to bring about the end of the Taliban.”
Calling the aircraft the “physical manifestation” of commitment to the fight for peace in Afghanistan, Stewart emphasized the larger vision for the young Afghan Air Force, which has been a driving success on the battlefield and is continuously growing in size.
“The Air Force you see before you today is the best in the region,” Stewart said. “They will not rest in their efforts to win and secure peace for the people of Afghanistan … and I’m proud to call the airmen within the Afghan Air Force my brothers in arms.”
Following the ceremony, Afghan Mi-17 pilot Capt. Jamshid Farhatyar and his fellow pilots spoke about the honor to be selected for the prestigious training opportunity and upgrading to the new airframe. Together, he said, his team of wingmen look forward to the chance to take to the skies in the UH-60.
“I’m very excited to take the controls of the Black Hawk,” he said. “It’s very exciting to get this opportunity because of the increase in control and maneuverability the new helicopter will offer. It’s a challenge to learn something new, but we receive quality instruction and training and hope to see more Black Hawks flying the AAF symbol soon.”