News story

RAF personnel at work in Kabul

The IJC focuses its activities on operations and development across Afghanistan, with the aim of defeating the Taliban through counter-insurgency…

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The IJC focuses its activities on operations and development across Afghanistan, with the aim of defeating the Taliban through counter-insurgency and changing the Afghan people’s perceptions of the ISAF forces.

The RAF personnel working there are involved in everything from political advice and air safety to IT maintenance and targeting.

The IJC is located near the Kabul International Airport and has more than 1,000 personnel from 43 member nations of the international coalition, including 50 people from the RAF.

From an air perspective, the headquarters has a big task, not only in supporting both ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces military operations, but also in the development of the Afghan National Army Air Corps and the civil aviation structures, airspace and organisations.

One of the RAF personnel based in Kabul is Air Commodore Alistair Monkman. He is responsible for the theatre-level employment of air power ranging from close air support, rotary and air lift to ISTAR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) and EW (Early Warning). He has to take all these air assets and plug them into the priorities of operations.

His number one priority though is ensuring that any ‘Troops in Contact’ are supported ‘usually within 12-15 minutes’. He said:

Never before have land troops been so supported; we are setting a new benchmark.

He is also responsible for supporting and monitoring the development of Afghan air power:

The Afghans are increasing their capacity,” he said. “They have some good kit, good training programmes and they are growing their air transport fleet.

Our focus has to be on security, development and governance and we tie into the Afghan system in everything we do.

Also looking at how air power is used and developed in Afghanistan, the RAF’s Squadron Leader Paddy Curran is responsible for the Air Component Co-ordination Element (Afghanistan) at IJC.

He has fingers in several pies including monitoring air command and control, the delivery of weapons, the development of Afghan air capability and how air is supporting the land campaign:

We make sure we don’t bring metal together,” he said.

Primarily he takes a strategic view of how communications, radar and air safety link together. He is the ultimate problem-solver to make sure theatre personnel smoothly enact the taskings from the Command Air Operations Centre. And that includes many nationalities.

It is sometimes a challenge to problem-solve given the amount of nations that are involved in the support of air power. However, Squadron Leader Curran has something of a gift with languages, speaking both Norwegian and Gaelic.

He has got out and about around the six major airfields in Afghanistan looking at how the Afghan airspace can be developed and how to bring procedures up to international standards.

He explained that charging nations to use Afghan airspace is the second largest income generator for the Afghan economy.

With current technology, aircraft on flight routes are kept 80 miles (129km) apart. However, with the proposed extension of radar coverage it is envisaged this distance will reduce to 20 miles (32km), with the ability to have countrywide radar coverage in less than two years.

Meanwhile, another RAF officer, Wing Commander Greg Hammond, works in the British Embassy in Kabul.

Given the political status of the embassy, he provides a military link to give focus to forward planning of operational issues on behalf of the National Contingency Commander, Lieutenant General Nick Parker.

He engages with the military planners within ISAF and looks out as far as 12 to 18 months, taking a theatre-wide perspective of the situation in Afghanistan. He considers the tactical effects of the military campaign, and considers the politics and development of the country.

Wing Commander Hammond also provides briefs that are used by ministers back in the UK and feeds information back to PJHQ (Permanent Joint Headquarters) and the MOD Operations Directorate. He considers himself to be in a very privileged position:

This is an unparalleled job for a Wing Commander; you have the opportunity to see how things operate at the very top of the senior military world and have access to some very senior people,” he said.

Published 2 June 2010