The Afghan air force is preparing for increased military operations against Taliban and militant forces this spring and has significantly expanded its capabilities and close air support weaponry since last year, according to a release from US air advisors. In spring 2014, the AAF fielded only five Mi-35 attack helicopters, but today has nearly six times that number of armed aircraft, including Mi-17s with 23 mm machine guns and MD-530 helicopters with .50-caliber machine guns, said an AAF spokesman in the March 10 release. The AAF’s Mi-35s now carry both 57 mm rockets and guns. The AAF has also expanded night-vision-goggle training for its helicopter pilots and has the C-208 Caravan and C-130 available for use in casualty-evacuation operations. The AAF and Afghan National Army also have expanded use of air liaison officers and Afghan tactical air coordinators for air support of ground operations, states the release. The AAF’s improvement in operational performance “is a trend in the right direction,” said Brig. Gen. Michael Rothstein, commanding general of Train, Advise, Assist Command-Air. US officials have said air support is a critical need of the AAF.
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