The training of Afghan Tactical Air Coordinators (ATACs) by coalition forces, including Australians, is having a significant impact on Afghanistan’s counter-insurgency operations.
In December, the Afghan Air Force conducted its first night strikes, inflicting heavy casualties on insurgents and destroying enemy munitions stores.
The commander of the Australians conducting the training, Group Captain Philip Arms, said both strikes should be considered significant achievements.
“ATACs trained and mentored by Australians are pushing out with the Afghan National Army into the fight,” he said. “They have had a very real impact.”
ATACs are the Afghan version of Australia’s Joint Terminal Attack Controllers. From a forward position they direct the action of combat aircraft engaged in close air support.
The Australian contingent is embedded in Resolute Support Mission’s Train Advise Assist Command – Air. The command seeks to develop a professional, capable and sustainable Afghan Air Force.
Australian Army Captain James Woods is a member of the coalition team that trains the ATACs.
He said providing the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces with their own ATAC capability was important.
“It is the key to Afghanistan being offensively capable of combating the insurgent threat,” he said.
Captain Woods said the ATACs were “smart, capable, willing to learn and willing to get out and do the job for real”.
“They are proactive and they understand the benefits of the capability; naturally they are very keen to see it implemented,” he said.
The coalition’s goal is to train the Afghan counterparts to a level where they can deliver independent training to ATACs.
“They are doing a lot of it themselves now. They deliver a lot of the classroom qualification and continuation training. We have our input and try to shape how and what they deliver, but it’s important that the process is Afghan-led,” Captain Woods said.
Operation Highroad is the Australian contribution to the NATO-led Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan. Australia contributes about 300 Defence personnel to the train, advise and assist mission.