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John A. Tirpak

Jan. 7, 2015: Two Air Expeditionary Wings will operate in Afghanistan as part of Operation Freedom's Sentinel, the new mission that began Jan. 1 following the end of US combat operations there, said Air Forces Central Command spokesman Lt. Col. Tadd Sholtis.

The 438th AEW will be based in the capital of Kabul, with personnel at other locations as well. It will "train, advise, and assist" the Afghan Air Force in developing "a sustainable air capability" supporting the 350,000-strong indigenous Afghan security forces. The missions it will teach include airlift, aeromedical evacuation, tactical reconnaissance, and ground attack.

Personnel attached to the unit are trained as instructors and advisors in flying, maintenance of flying platforms that "the Afghans use," as well as tactical mission planning and "basic staff functions of an air service," Sholtis told Air Force Magazine.  

The 455th AEW, based at Bagram Air Base, but with satellite locations, "will maintain a counterterrorism capability in Afghanistan" targeting the remnants of al Qaeda and preventing either an al Qaeda "resurgence" or "external plotting against US targets or the homeland," he added.

Members of the Taliban won't be targeted per se, but "we may provide combat enabler support" to the Afghan security forces "in limited operations" to "prevent detrimental strategic effects to Afghan forces or operations," Sholtis said.

The mission affects mainly "those who fly and maintain the several dozen ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) and strike aircraft in the country," which at the moment are remotely piloted aircraft and F-16s.

Both missions will be supported by airlift and tanker units, based in or near Afghanistan, and aerial port people and gear to support those in-country, and there will be force protection personnel as well. Longer-range aircraft based in the Persian Gulf region can be called on at need, Sholtis said, and can be shifted to Afghanistan "as the (narrower) mission dictates." There also will be "reach back" assets available to support the mission in the Continental US.

Air Force personnel will account for about 20 percent of the 13,000 US troops remaining in Afghanistan, Sholtis noted.