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Air Interdiction Unit conducts first integrated counter narcotics operation

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Members of the Afghan Ministry of Interior's Air Interdiction Unit accomplished a first on 11 August by completing their first fully-integrated counter-narcotics operation alongside a coalition aircrew.

The mission, originating from the Afghan air force compound in Kabul, was flown by Afghan AIU fully-mission-qualified special forces pilots and, according to AIU officials, aimed at destroying illegal drugs and drug-making equipment in Achin District in Nangahar province.

According to mission planners, a large drug lab and one ton of illegal drugs were destroyed during the raid.

The mission also included support from units within the Afghan National Intelligence Unit, Afghan commando forces and coalition advisers.

"Today's mission proved that U.S. and U.K. training is working and the AIU is a step closer to achieving its own dedicated counter-narcotics operations with its Afghan partners," said GBR Maj. Stephen Davies, AIU Executive Training Team executive officer. "It also proves the quality of individual [aircrew member] the AIU has in order to be able to achieve such integration. They are the most highly trained and qualified Afghan aircrew in the country."

The AIU is a U.S. Army and U.K. Royal Air Force-mentored counter-narcotics aviation unit that provides general helicopter support to the Afghan National Police, as well as executes deliberate counter-narcotic operations with partnered special operations forces. AIU units specialize in assaulting ground targets that are not in close proximity of friendly ground forces.

With 20 Mi-17 helicopters currently in the AIU inventory, crews conduct training and operational missions in support of the MoI, in conjunction with the Afghan National Police and other counter-narcotics forces throughout Afghanistan.

According to officials, the specialized Air Interdiction Unit enables counter-narcotics police to reach what would otherwise be completely inaccessible parts of Afghanistan with the helicopters providing added security and the element of surprise.

Afghan AIU commanders overseeing the mission indicate today's mission went according to plan.

"Today is the first time that Afghan AIU aircrew have flown partnered coalition counter-narcotic operations," said Col. Fahim Ramin. "This partnership has been achieved through the dedication of our coalition training team combined with the hard work of my AIU aircrew to achieve this level of success. We plan to build upon this achievement and integrate further into these types of specialist aviation operations in order to further develop the capability of the AIU."

Experts indicate that specialized training leading to today's milestone has taken approximately five years and included thousands of hours of familiarization in the cockpit, operational air assault training and the integration of AIU crew members into coalition counter-narcotics missions.

Following today's mission, the unit now hopes to expand their support to Afghan National Security Forces in hopes of contributing to the stabilization of the Afghan government.

Now that the first step to fully-integrated operations is complete, advisers from the AIU hope to continue their momentum by integrating efforts in future counter narcotic operations.

"We will continue to train more fully-mission qualified crews for future operations, and as the unit qualifies more members, they will slowly become the majority crew members on these missions," explained Davies. "In the meantime, they will gain more experience in conducting these types of operations through coalition mentoring with the future goal of having a fully-trained AIU that has the capability to conduct these types of operations with their own Afghan counter-narcotic forces."

Article by Capt. Jamie Humphries, 438th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs