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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Progress and State of the Afghan Air Force as it Relates to Stability in Afghanistan

Brigadier General Timothy Ray, Commander, NATO Air Forces in Afghanistan
New York, NY
November 2, 2011

Date: 11/02/2011 Location: New York, NY Description: Brigadier General Timothy Ray Briefing at the New York Foreign Press Center on Progress and State of the Afghan Air Force - State Dept Image

10:00 A.M., EDT


MODERATOR: So we just want to thank everyone for being here. And thank you, sir, for your time. This is Brigadier General Timothy Ray. He is the commander of the NATO Air Forces in Afghanistan. And so I will just leave time for him for his remarks, and then we will have a discussion about operations over there. So sir, thank you so much.

BGEN RAY: Great. It’s an honor to be here today. Let me explain a little bit more about what I do. That may help. I have several hats that I wear in the whole structure. I will try to – my very best to stay away from military jargon but to speak in the plainest of terms.

The military organization that’s responsible for all the matters in Afghanistan is called ISAF, or the International Security Assistance Force. That’s led by General Allen. There are two main parts to this force. It is the IJC, or the International Joint Command, and that’s the arm that’s responsible for the combat operations. The NATO training mission in Afghanistan is the other side of the ISAF team, and they are responsible for building the Afghan national security forces. And when I talk about the Afghan national security forces, I include the Air Force, the Army, and the police force. And so these three key elements are going to be what sustains the Afghan nation going forward for security. And that is a – the NATO training mission in Afghanistan is 37 partner nations, all teamed to build the Afghan national security forces. We have a lot of great help from all over the world, both in NATO and other non-NATO members who have contributed. And there are a number of other countries who donate money to the cause.

When we talk about what’s going on, and really the thing that I can talk to you best, is in the NATO training mission in Afghanistan because in that group I am responsible for all the operational flying that the Afghan Air Force does, and I’m responsible for all the training. So from the very beginning of training the first recruits to training their first pilots at the flying the operational missions in support of the Afghan nation, I’m responsible for all of those things. I won’t go into the different kinds of things that that means, but I think for your purposes that’s probably more than enough, and that really tells you what my stock and trade is, and that’s building the Air Force.

What we’re doing in the NATO training mission in Afghanistan is a fantastic story. It’s not told nearly enough, but let me park on a few things for you. Back in about 2009, a decision was made to surge the Afghan national security forces. So that was to build from just over 200,000 to about 352,000. There’s 187,000 in the Army planned, there will be 8,000 members of the Afghan Air Force, and then another 157 for the Afghan police force. So this 352 force is going to be around for quite some time, well past 2014. We don’t know exactly when, but that force will eventually come down, but it’s intended to take care of the Afghan commitment to security in Afghanistan. So that is to build greater capability for the Afghan Government.

Now, when we talk about what the Afghans do, or what any military does in an insurgency, there’s two main pieces. Clearly, the most obvious piece that everyone sees and hears about is the fighting, and that’s to fight the insurgents. But what’s just as important is the other side, and that’s to create credibility of the government in the eyes of the people. And of course, the military has a very significant role in that. It provides security for the people. It gives a more visible presence of the government in helping the people, and it helps present a better solution and a better future for the people than what the insurgents can offer.

There’s – I’ll share some stories with you here in just a minute on that, but when you look at the combination of the capacity of the Afghans to lead and take care of their own security and provide for their people as well as hold the enemy at risk, now the foundation is set for a greater and greater role of the Afghans to take responsibility for security in Afghanistan.

Back in 2008, we began a report to Congress. It’s called the 1230 Report. That report has, over the course of time, over the last three or four years, outlined the security situation. Back in 2008 and 9, it described pretty clearly that security was slipping and that we were destabilizing. 2010, it highlighted the fact that things had stabilized. And now in 2011, it’s addressing that the plan in place, both the U.S. and coalition surge and the Afghan surge, are creating more security on the ground. Last year, President Karzai announced his first tranche of areas to be transitioned to full security by the Afghans. That has worked well. He’s going to announce, I believe today sometime, the next round of regions and towns to be transitioned to full Afghanistani control. And of course, as we build this force to 352,000 and greater capacity, it’s going to be the force that does the daily security.

So the Afghan people that – have in the past year seen the presence of the Afghan security forces taking responsibility. We’ll see it again in more regions. And it will comprise a much greater size of the population. The size of the population right now under security of the Afghans is about 25 percent, and that will grow significantly.

So how are we doing that? We’re talking about equipment. That’s easy to discuss. I’m not going to talk at great length about the Army or the police, because that’s really not my expertise. What I can tell you about, of course, is the Air Force. And we’re building, as I said, to 8,000 members. We have about 5,000 of those in place right now. We have about 66 of the planned 145 aircraft that we intend to provide to the Afghans.

And what’s really interesting, as you look at the history of the Afghanistan Air Force, back in the ’70s and ’80s, they actually had a very modern Air Force. So there is a history of the Afghans in having a modern, capable Air Force. And that was all Russian aircraft, but through combat action and through the inability of the Mujahideen and the Taliban and the warlords to maintain them, and then our combat activity when we first showed up as the United States and the coalition, that force is gone. I can tell you that we are building on that expertise and taking some of those very talented people and bringing them forward and bringing in a young group behind them.

I’d like to mention to the folks I’ve been talking to in the last couple of days is that I’m a member of the United States Air Force, and I believe – and I’m a little biased – that that’s the best Air Force on the planet right now. And so I’ve seen the standard that they operate on, and I can also tell you that I’ve flown with the Afghans. I’ve been in the cockpit with them. I’ve seen them in action. And I can tell you they’re very good. Some of the ones I’ve flown with have done just an absolutely brilliant job. I’ve seen them actually correct the coalition instructor. I’ve seen them explain some of the things in the systems in the airplane at a standard that I would expect of our own forces.

So there’s growth going on there and there’s talent to build on, so I’m very encouraged by some of the things I’ve seen. And when you talk to the young lieutenants who are coming into the flight program, they’re incredibly eager. They’re incredibly eager to be part of something bigger than themselves, something that stretches across some of the tribal and cultural boundaries. But they’re very eager for leadership, they’re very eager to be part of the new Air Force, so it’s a pretty encouraging story.

So let’s give some examples, really, now of both the combat action and then what’s going on on the peacetime side to build credibility. If you’ll recall back on the 13th of September, the attacks on the insurgents – by the insurgents, what was not covered very well was the fact that the police force, who two years ago was really a questionable crowd, have now really done an amazing turnaround, and they are far more capable. And they stopped a great deal from happening that could’ve been far worse than it was.

The Afghan security force, particularly the police, have borne the brunt of a lot of the attacks, and they’ve done a lot to stop a lot of the violence. And they’ve kept it – while it may have happened, it hasn’t been successful. The Afghan Army is doing a much better job embedding with the coalition partners. They’re doing the patrols. They’re out there in the field. The Afghan Air Force was going to – was really planned to start about three years after the Army. So our fighting capacity is still being built. We imagine that it’s going to take another two or three years to let that mature to where we’re online and we can do this more effectively. But certainly, that will follow in the footsteps of where the Army and the police have gone.

Turning now to the other side – when you build credibility in the minds of the people, the Afghan security forces, in particular the police, have done a great turnaround. They have – we have upped their pay, we have included the human rights training, we have extended their training from six to eight weeks, and now they are a force that can be more trusted, because in the past they weren’t necessarily trusted by the Afghan people. So now there’s someone who can be there in their defense. And the Afghan police are doing a wonderful job.

In the Afghan Air Force, I do have a picture I want to show. If we could show --

MODERATOR: We can bring up red.

BGEN RAY: This is an example of some of the things that we’re doing. The Afghan people have not been able to look to their military and their government to help them in their greatest time of need. This picture is – there was some flooding in the northeast side of the country, and it’s happened about four or five times now in the last couple of years. And the face that they now see coming to their rescue is an Afghan crew. This is not a coalition crew. This is the Afghan people coming to the aid of the Afghans in very remote regions. We’ve had other instances where they’ve been able to bring medical supplies to remote areas. They’ve saved people in avalanches. They’re doing a lot more work to show that the Afghan Government is there for them and to do more for them and to offer a better solution than what the insurgents are doing.

So I imagine that this will continue to grow. And you can see a great deal of pride on the Afghan Air Force members who are out there doing something for their own people. What a phenomenal turnaround that’s been. But again, you wouldn’t see that 10 years ago. You wouldn’t see that five years ago. But now you’re doing that.

So there’s the two pieces. There’s the combat piece and then there’s the building credibility piece. There’s lots more instances, but what I would tell you that from the NATO training mission in Afghanistan side, there’s a lot more to that than just buying equipment and training people. We’re focusing now on this transition time to where we can grow a greater and greater capacity of the Afghans to do this on their own, to take the lead.

Things that we’re focused on right now is the leader training, spending a lot of time on training leaders. We’re doing a lot of work on the literacy. The Taliban did absolutely nothing for this country in the time that they were in power. Right now, we can say that there’s over 8 million schooled right now, 8 million Afghans in school gaining literacy. And so we’re raising the overall level of the Afghan people in a very significant, very meaningful, and very lasting way. When the recruits come to us, 85 percent of them are illiterate and innumerate.

So it’s an absolute game changer when you can teach them to read and to write. When you have an Afghan policeman who can’t read the passport or he can’t read the paperwork that he’s signing, he doesn’t know how much money he’s getting paid, when you tell an Afghan soldier to put four bullets in his gun and he doesn’t understand that, but now when they come out of their training, when they spend some more time, we get them to a third grade literacy. And that is a fundamental difference in the entire culture of Afghanistan. And that’s going to continue. So now, about 8 million kids are in school. In three or four or five years, that’s going to now move forward, graduate, and be a much more effective contributor to the society. And that will help us in the long run as well.

We’re spending a lot of time on the stewardship mindset. So we build the leaders and the trainers. The trainers on the Afghan side in the Army, there’s nearly 3,000 of the Afghan soldiers that are the trainers. Most of the Afghan Army basic training is not run by the coalition but run by Afghans, with the coalition partners staying in the background watching this happen. And they’re doing a superb job. It’s about 1,000 trainers on the police side, and we only have about 30 or so on the Air Force side because, as I said, we’re pretty small in comparison and we’re pretty young. But they’re doing a lot more to where there are Afghan officers and NCOs teaching the classes of the basic recruits and bringing them online. So there’s a lot of good stuff there.

The stewardship, of course, is a cultural piece. What’s very important for us to drive home is that, as we bring in the resources from all over the world, that we have the climate and the culture of the Afghan military to take care of this stuff and to be good stewards of it as we go forward. I’ve enjoyed watching the Czech Republic help us out in the – on the helicopter side. I see those guys firsthand hold a standard of maintaining the aircraft that – I just enjoy seeing them at work, because they’re really pushing the envelope very far forward on how well they do at maintaining aircraft. The contributions of a lot of our coalition partners are very important in this endeavor, so that’s helping us out quite a bit.

And then we’re going to work very hard over the next few years to give them the institutional capability. So if you looked at a major corporation, they would have their own logistical system, their own human resources system, their own supply, their own planning capability. They would do marketing. They would do a lot of very key functions that kept that organization running. When you look at our Air Force and our military, the same kinds of things – I don’t want to go into a lot of technical jargon, but now it’s time to teach the Afghan military how to do these things on their own.

So when we look at the transition of the combat forces that are going to be coming out over the next few years, right behind that is an Afghan military that’s stepping up to the plate and doing more and more there. It’s very important to have that team online. But when you look at the reduction in coalition forces, then it’s important to note that, from the NATO training mission and from the training and coalition side, there will be an enduring relationship between the United States, NATO, and Afghanistan. So we’re not just going to take everything out. We’re going to stay there with them to help them train, to help them continue to build this military, because it’s such an important part of them taking ownership and taking the lead, just as they’ve done in the first tranche and then now in this second tranche of security.

So there’s a pretty interesting story there. I’m pretty fascinated with it. I’ve only been there a few months myself, but it’s pretty interesting to watch these young lieutenants and these new members take a great deal of pride in what they’re doing.

So that’s really the opening comments that I had. I would be glad to entertain any questions you may have.

QUESTION: I would follow up to training the Czech instructors provides to Afghani helicopter pilots. What is your experience with that, and is it sufficient, the program right now, or should it be expanded according to --

BGEN RAY: We’re going to look at other options to expand our pilot training. And certainly, what the Czechs have done to support us has been outstanding. We just sent four Afghan students over there to learn to fly the Mi-17. We have a great deal of support on the maintenance side in Afghanistan. And as I said, it really helps in particularly the members at Kabul. I just so appreciative of their expertise in a platform that we aren’t familiar with on the U.S. side. But clearly, that coalition team is a big help.

Certainly, we would welcome a broader relationship with the Czechs and to do more with them. We’re going to talk about how we do that. I don’t have any specific plans at this time. But as the new guy looking at the pipeline to build pilots, I have to consider a lot of options. And certainly, there’s a lot of coalition members that would be willing to help, and certainly, the Czechs are some people that we would consider doing that with.

QUESTION: What kind of aircraft does the Afghan Air Force consist of? Are these Russian weapons or American?

BGEN RAY: It’s a mix. The Afghans fly a mixed fleet, and it will be expanded. So right now, we have a little over 30 Mi-17 helicopters and we have 11 Mi-35s, which are the export versions of the Mi-24. About six of those are really usable. That’s the helicopter fleet. Right now, we have six Cessna 182s to do the basic flight training. We have three of our Cessna 208s that have come in to help us do out fixed-wing training for light cargo. We expect about another 23 of those to be in our formation. We’re going to have six MD 530 U.S.-built helicopters for rotary wing training. Right now, we have 13 of the G triple 2, or G-22. We call it the C-27, which is an Italian two-engine medium cargo lift aircraft. We’re going to have 20 of those total. We will have a decision here very soon to – as to whether or not – as to what platform we’re going to buy for the light air support. So basically, it would be a single-engine, propeller-driven strike aircraft for counterinsurgency operations.

The thing about a counterinsurgency is you don’t need very high tech equipment. You need very basic equipment. And certainly, the thing that’s the biggest variable and the most important variable on my part – on my mind – is the human capital and its ability to rise to that mission. So – and I think the Afghans are going to be just fine there. We will pick up some more of the Mi-17s. There’s a planned purchase to take us out to 56 total Mi-17s, and certainly that’s – the Mi-35 and Mi-17 are two of the platforms that the Czechs are particularly good at helping us with.

QUESTION: Where do you purchase these weapons from?

BGEN RAY: They have been – it’s been a mix. It’s been – some aircraft have been donated over time. Some aircraft we bought off of other countries and refurbed them. And right now, the current Mi-17s are coming from Russia itself.

The Mi-17 is a helicopter that the Afghan military is very, very familiar with. This particular variant is modified and even better for the Afghan environment, the higher altitudes, a little better capability. But it’s something that the maintainers are used to, it’s something that the pilots are used to, so it’s something you don’t have to spend a lot more effort to get them up to speed on. So it’s been a big help for us.

MODERATOR: We’ll take a question in Washington.

QUESTION: Question from Washington? Can you clear up for me the numbers, first of all? You’d said somewhere between – I’ve heard 4,000 and 5,000 as far as Afghan Air Force currently.

BGEN RAY: I have – we have 5,000 – approximately 5,000 already trained and in their duty locations. There’s another 3,000 to recruit and build out. We should have the full 8,000 trained and on the books by 2015, and that’s about the same time that we’ll have the rest of our 145 aircraft.

QUESTION: Can I ask then just two things? With regards to the Air Force, is there an equivalent where – you hear all the time with the national Army that there is such a large portion of these battalions that cannot operate completely on their own, that cannot stand entirely on their own. Is there some sort of figure? Or how does that translate to the Air Force? What portion is completely self-sufficient, self-capable?

BGEN RAY: The way that you would look at the Air Force is not so much on different organizations, but on numbers of crews that can operate independently. Right now, we have 12 Mi-17 crews that we can allow to go off and do missions by themselves, but certainly, if we’re going to go into a high-threat environment or a very difficult scenario, then that changes. And so it all depends on the security situation that we’re dealing with. So if they’re doing just standard runs between bases or if they’re taking cargo or passengers into a low-threat environment, then they can do that by themselves. And in fact, they, many times, take the initiative on their own to plan those sorties and to execute them, that we don’t need to be there side by side. But when it gets to be more complicated, when there’s a growing threat, or if there’s a more complicated mission requirement, then obviously, we’re going to be there with them.

Now, we need to have about 70 to 80 crews total trained. We only have 12 now. So the bulk of what we do as the coalition is to train the remaining crews. So that’s going to be the bulk of our work over the next three or four years, and that glide path to build out the 70 crews, if we make the adjustments that we have planned, that’s going to take root in the 2015 timeframe. So there’s quite a bit of training to do, which is the predominant role that the coalition advisors are taking on.

QUESTION: Sir, can I just ask one follow-up? How long have you been training to reach the point where you have these 12 crews, so I can understand the hope to have 70 to 80 crews?

BGEN RAY: The full-blown effort to train has really been about a three-year-old effort. Now, the pacing item – it’s very important to talk about what’s different than just training somebody. English language – the English language is the international language of aviation. So English speaking skills are the pacing item to build the Afghan Air Force. We may have older pilots that may have been able to fly under the Russians or the Mujahideen or the Taliban, but they can’t speak English yet to the standard that’s required. We’ve looked at what’s happened in Iraq, and we’ve looked at all the other international partners that come to the United States to fly, and there’s a score that’s required.

I won’t go into the details of that, because that’s really not important, but I can tell you that every time that we get somebody to that level, they are successful. So our chore now is to build and grow that capacity for English language training so that we have the ability to talk to the crews and the crews to be able to thrive in the international aviation environment. So that’s really the pacing item. Does that help?

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Can I just ask your name and organization?

QUESTION: Joan Soley, BBC.

BGEN RAY: What I can tell you that – what’s a pretty interesting story for us, our first pilot training class taught in Afghanistan will begin in December. So this will be the Afghans’ ability to produce their own pilots. It’s a great new story. It’s a very big turn for the Afghan Air Force to be able to say, “We’re producing our own pilots.” Now, we’re going to rely on contractors and coalition members to train. Then in about two to three years, we expect to see the Afghan instructor corps fall in and be able to take a greater and greater role in doing that.

But we anticipate the bulk of the Afghan pilots to be trained at Shindand Air Base, which is in the western side of Afghanistan. We will have, in that first class, our first female Afghan pilot. She will begin there. And we also have one young lady beginning pilot training rotary wing training in the United States. So a very big deal for the Afghan Air Force to say that two young ladies are joining the ranks of the aviators, and we’re pretty optimistic. We have more that are learning the English language, and again, as I said, the English language is a pacing item for the Air Force, and it’s going to take a little bit longer to get those pilots up to speed on that.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: You mentioned the majority of training will at the Shindand Air Base. I guess I was just wondering if you could talk a little bit about how much training is going on within Afghanistan, and you also have pilots going to flight schools in neighboring countries, you also mentioned going to the U.S., the Czech Republic, and elsewhere.

BGEN RAY: Sure. Right now we have about 10 to 15 in the U.S. We have 80 students in the United Arab Emirates, and a big piece of their training, of course, is the English language. And they will flow to basic pilot training and then into rotary wing training. We do rely on the Czech Republic to help us with additional follow-on Mi-17 helicopter training. So they will get their wings and be a basic qualified pilot, but then to be qualified in the Mi-17, we’ll let them go to the Czech Republic or we’ll train a lot of them there in Afghanistan.

So we’re looking at lots of different ways to build this thing very quickly and to get that cadre of instructors two years from now. So if I bring in a pilot now and he’s qualified, two or three, maybe four years later, I can bring him back in to be an instructor to continue that process of growing the pilots. So that’s the thinking, is that as you get more now, you can get more capacity that matures, and then now it becomes the self-sustaining engine. So we rely right now, as I said, on the United Arab Emirates, the United States, and the Czech Republic to do the bulk of our training. But then a lot is going on in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: And how many did you say are in the Czech Republic?

BGEN RAY: Right now I have four, but we run several classes a year. Usually it’s about eight students, a mix of U.S. advisors who need to learn how to fly the Mi-17 and then Afghan pilots. We can alter the mix, but I do have four Afghan pilots over there right now.

QUESTION: And the trainers, are they mostly U.S. Air Force personnel, or do you have NATO countries as well?

BGEN RAY: We have a lot of coalition partners, 37 for the entire NATO training command, but I think I’m sitting in at about 13 or 14. I’d have to go count them again because it keeps changing. We just added the El Salvadorans. They’re out at Hurra, and they’re doing a fantastic job teaching security, teaching logistics. We have a lot of great partnerships going on right now. We take a great deal of pride in their particular contributions, because they fill areas that, quite frankly, we don’t have all the expertise in. So we leverage them greatly.

QUESTION: I’m sorry. One more if I may. You mentioned that right now you have close to 5,000 who are training. I think you said there are 10 to 15 in the U.S., 80 in the UAE. Are there sort of the elite of the group that are --

BGEN RAY: These are the pilots. So we have – if you look at an Air Force, you’ll have your pilot training and your officer training, and then you’ll have your basic core skills, your technical schools, if you will. So an individual comes out of basic training, and then they go learn how to be a mechanic; they learn how to be a communications expert; they learn how to take care of engineering work like plumbing and roads and whatnot. Every aspect of the Air Force – there’s medical, there’s intelligence, there’s a number of these specialties.

And so this school – we call it Pohantoon-e-Hawayee, which in Dari means the “Big Air School.” So that’s the school where we teach all the basic recruits on how to be who they’re going to be in the Air Force. That’s at Kabul, and that’s in a constant production mode of teaching the English language, teaching literacy, and then, of course, getting their basic skills for what they need to do. So that’s the bulk of the Air Force that’s going through training. The pilots really actually comprise a very small amount.

QUESTION: Any contacts, cooperation with your Russian colleagues? Just why I ask, it’s Russian, ex-Soviet, Air Force have huge experience in Afghanistan.

BGEN RAY: Right. Well, they certainly will help us with the Mi-17, the parts and the availability of that, looking at having more of their expertise to make sure that the air craft that we’re flying are meeting the original engineering and mechanical standards that it was designed on. The aircraft that we’re getting now are up to standard. We’re getting their help to go back and look at the older aircraft to make sure that they’re going to be as airworthy and sustainable as we would like to. But certainly they have a lot of technical expertise.

QUESTION: One more question. A couple days ago, the winner of the presidential election in Kyrgyzstan – I don’t remember his name – announced his first decision will closing of American Air Force base, Manas, in Bishkek, in the capital. Will this decision interrupt any of your activities in Afghanistan and in American Air Force?

BGEN RAY: Well, naturally, that’s been a discussion over the past few years. I’m not the most qualified individual to talk to that in terms of what that means to the U.S. and the coalition. There’s a lot better experts out there. What I can tell you, from my take, is that the Afghans will continue to be able to train inside of Afghanistan. I don’t see that to be an immediate problem to the Afghans. I still think we will be able export our training as needed, just like we’re doing right now. We don’t rely on the different assets in the NATO training mission, the assets that are in Kyrgyzstan, and that’s really not part of our daily operations. That really has more of an impact on the joint command that’s in the combat role, and that’s really as much as I can say about that.

QUESTION: Well, two weeks ago here, the deputy of Secretary of the State, Rose Gottemoeller, announced here in this press center about the decision of Russian Government to provide to American Air Force the transport corridor via Russian territory. If this decision – if this goodwill of the Russian Government will help in your activity in Afghanistan, that you can supply now – you can bring everything to Afghan territory to your base more quickly, more effectively, more economically?

BGEN RAY: As I said, there are some other individuals who are far better qualified to talk to that than I am. I mean, we’re such a small force right now that we’re not as reliant on that we’re not as reliant on that in terms of Afghanistan. So I really don’t have anything to add to that. Sorry.

QUESTION: What is the background of the Afghan pilots, and what requirements do they have to meet to enter the Air Force in the beginning?

BGEN RAY: Let me step back a minute. Let me say that of the recruiting of all the Afghan national security forces – three or four years ago, we had a hard time keeping our numbers. And now I can tell you that we’re turning several thousand away each month because of the demand to get into the military. The literacy requirements are higher. Many of them don’t meet the criteria. For a pilot, of course, you have a health standard, your vision, your heart, et cetera. You need to be through the 12th grade education, and then be able to speak English to a given level to where we can mature you or you’re already there. But it’s very much like many of our coalition partners – the same standard.

QUESTION: For the security investigation do you check any Taliban member or --

BGEN RAY: Sure. We do concern ourselves with that. The entire ANSF, the Afghan National Security Forces – there’s an eight step process to vet and to check to see if we have anybody that – with a questionable past. A lot has been done to help us, through many layers of detection and surveillance, to assure that we minimize that to the maximum extent possible. But we have some pretty reliable folks.

QUESTION: Okay. One more question. My dad is a military pilot in Royal Soviet Union, Russia. He’s retired right now. And as a son of pilot in this, as a kid, it was my dream to be pilot or at least an astronaut. You have the same situation in Afghanistan and the United States too, how the youth generation look at the sky and think about to be pilot. Is these profession, these duty, armed duties, popular, still popular now?

BGEN RAY: I believe it is. We’ve got some people in the Afghan Air Force that are heroes. They’ve done some amazing things. We’re talking about a country who’s been through 30 years of war. So there’s been a lot devastation, there’s been a lot of turmoil. Certainly there’s heroes out there. And there’s a few of them that stand out. I’m not going to mention names, but we’re not having a problem recruiting pilots because they want to come be part of this, and I think it’s for the same reasons that you’re talking about.

It’s enjoyable to sit and talk with my Afghan counterpart, and we’re talking about being airmen. We’re talking about flying airplanes. We’re talking about the things that we’ve done and how fascinating aviation is. So there’s a great bond that you can click with your fellow aviators. And so, I know I have about 4,000 hours. But when I talk to some of these individuals with 10,000 hours of flying time – it’s just unheard of to have that kind of experience, 5 and 6,000 hours. A lot of it has been in combat, flying for different elements of the government over time. So there’s a pretty neat bond that the airmen can have and they can have a great conversation about aviation and being an airman, which is always a great way to start talking about professionalization and getting us back to building those leaders and building those trainers. But, it’s a big help.

MODERATOR: Another question. Washington?

QUESTION: Hi, thank you. Sir, the latest 1230 Report tended to focus on the idea that Pakistan and safe havens in Pakistan was the largest issue facing security as a whole. You mentioned the 1230 Report saying that the plan in place is essentially creating more security on the ground. But with regards to the Air Force, does it hold true that Pakistan is an issue that you’re tackling? Or how does this relate to the Air Force and the issues that you’re facing?

BGEN RAY: Well, the – when you look at the situation on the ground, the insurgents, and you look at the Pakistan Government, there really isn’t an air threat. So we – from an air perspective, we’re not concerned about air sovereignty, and we’re not concerned about the Taliban having – or the insurgents having an Air Force. So from an air perspective, my take on it is we need to build this capability that the Afghan Government will have as an advantage over the insurgents to be able to get more of a leverage over them, to deny them safe havens inside the Afghan borders, to be able to hold them at risk, be able to support the troops on the ground.

So I mean, I won’t go into military jargon, but when you have an advantage that the other doesn’t have, you need to take full advantage of that. And that’s what the Afghan Air Force bill is all about, is to get that added security and that added capability as soon as you can to leverage it against the insurgents. But the Pakistan question really is not a germane one when it comes to building the Afghan Air Force at this time because we are dealing with a counterinsurgency force focused on internal security in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Thank you. If I could ask one more question, as long as I’m not stopping anybody else. With the subject of budget cuts coming up and the idea of generally cutting the funds for the Afghan sort of training mission as a whole, is that something that you are concerned about, and is there an area as far as the Air Force is concerned that you think budget cuts would have the most devastating impact? What would be you be hardest hit in terms of budget cuts?

BGEN RAY: Well, the team at NATO training mission Afghanistan has looked very closely at how we’re building the force. Remember I talked about there was the surge from over 200,000 to 352,000, and there was an outlay in cash that’s required to build that capability, and naturally then it will taper off. Now that the NATO training mission Afghanistan staff has been at this and we’ve got the experience now, we ourselves have looked very closely at what it requires, and the 1.6 billion that was turned back to Congress, that was all our doing, no one cut that. We took our own initiative to release those funds back to the government. So the cuts that we’re taking are cuts that we think are things that we need to do, not what anyone’s forcing upon us. So, really, there’s not a lapse in capability by any means when it comes to this money coming off the table. In fact, I think as we get better and better at it, and we get better at counterinsurgency, we get better at training, and we learn what the Afghans really need and they get better at it, then we can take more off the table.

A cost driver that we want to get away from is contract logistic support. So the cost that we look at sustaining, factor some of that in the out years, but what we clearly need to do, and we’re going to continue to do, is, as I said before, we’re going to build the Afghan capacity. So if I have Afghan maintainers maintaining aircraft, they can do that at a fraction of the cost of having a Western contractor come in and do that. So there’s still, I think, more off ramps to save even more money, but it’s not really a cost saving issue, it’s a capacity of the Afghans to do this by themselves, and they clearly have the talent to do it.

Does that help?

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

MODERATOR: Any other questions here in New York? Okay. Great. Well, thank you so much for your time.

BGEN RAY: Thank you.