KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military will give Afghanistan 20 refurbished transport planes over the next two years, U.S. and Afghan officials said on Sunday, doubling the size of its depleted air force.
Two of the C-27A medium-sized military transport aircraft, manufactured by Italy’s Alenia Aeronautica, have already been delivered, Afghan Air Corps Chief of Staff General Abdul Wahab Wardak told Reuters.
U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said the remainder of the twin-engine, turbo-prop planes would be delivered by 2011.
“With the delivery of the C-27s, the brave and skilled pilots of the air corps gain the ability to conduct many of the same airlift missions done by coalition forces in defence of their country,” McChrystal said at a military ceremony in Kabul.
During the Soviet occupation of the 1980s and up until 1992, Afghanistan’s air force boasted as many as 500 aircraft — including 200 helicopters and 100 fighter jets — and as many as 7,000 personnel.
Wardak said the air force quickly fell into disrepair when the Taliban came to power and much of the equipment that had not already fallen into the hands of warlords was destroyed when U.S.-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in late 2001.
“With the arrival of new aircraft our air force will have 40 aircraft including nine helicopters,” Wardak said.
“By 2016, the Afghanistan Air Corps will have 150 aircraft and around 8,000 personnel,” Wardak said.
Afghanistan’s rugged, mountainous terrain means road access to much of the country is difficult, making transport by air more important.
The C-27 aircraft have short take-off and landing capability and can carry payloads of up to 10,700 kg (23,600 lb).
Originally designated as G.222 aircraft by their manufacturer, the U.S. military has since procured updated versions of the aircraft, designated C-27J Spartans.
Alenia is a unit of Italy’s Finmeccanica.
Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Paul Tait