French Air Force: immeasurable support to OEF, ISAF
Drawings and mural paintings line the walls of the French operations area on the flightline here – remembrances from every French air force group deployed to Kandahar Airfield over the last five years.
French jet fighters were originally deployed to Manas, Kyrgyzstan, in 2002, then to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in 2004, before reaching Kandahar in 2007.
“The French Air Force has been a strong, reliable partner since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and the International Security Assistance Force,” said Lt. Gen. David Goldfein, Combined Forces Air Component Commander. “Their selfless commitment to combat terrorism and promote stability in Afghanistan is immeasurable, and their efforts and sacrifices will never be forgotten.”
The FAF commitment in Afghanistan began Oct. 18, 2001, when the French Liaison Team was established at Headquarters U.S. Central Command to coordinate all matters related to the French contribution to the coalition. Three days later, in light of U.N. Security Resolution 1368, which reaffirmed the inherent right of self defense for states victims of international terrorism, French forces were sent into Afghanistan, starting with special forces and an air component. On Dec. 20, 2001, they committed to ISAF, created by U.N. Security Resolution 1386, to restore stability and order in Afghanistan.
“After the appalling terrorists attacks of 9/11, it was not only a legal and an operational duty for France to immediately commit its forces and show its strong resolve to support its old ally across the Atlantic, but first of all a moral one,” said Col. Xavier Beguin, French air force Afghanistan component commander.
Indeed, the French are no strangers to the fight against terrorism, having experienced it on their home soil too.
“We have been here to fight against terrorism,” said FAF Lt. Michael de Belleville, commander of engine maintenance at Kandahar. “I think it’s important because France was attacked by terrorism in 1995.”
On June 25, 1995, radicals set off a blast in a busy Paris train station that killed eight people and injured 80.
“France has always been engaged in counterterrorism,” de Belleville added.
Approximately 3,000 French troops are currently deployed in support of OEF and ISAF. Of that, approximately 300 FAF airmen are stationed in Afghanistan, Tajikistan and Southwest Asia.
“From flying armed overwatch to protect coalition troops on the ground, to supplying the gas that fuels our pilots, to sharing experiences to teach our Afghan counterparts, the French have long provided vital support to the air mission,” Goldfein said.
About 120 of those FAF airmen work at Kandahar at Detachment 464, helping support and maintain the Mirage 2000D fighter aircraft.
“We fight against terrorism as part of NATO operations,” said Lt. Col. Stephane Stanghellini, FAF Det. 464 commander.
The detachment works with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers to direct their combat aircraft onto insurgent targets. The JTACs provide close air support to ground units they are attached to.
“We work with JTACs supporting convoys and look for improvised explosive devices,” said FAF Maj. Laurent Bureau, Det. 464 chief of fighter squadron.
“The crews are always prepared to support any of the ground forces,” Stanghellini said. There is never discrimination.
“We all fight together against the same threats,” he added. “Even with refuelers, it is whoever can help out. We have the same level of intervention and we provide the same amount of relief for troops in contact.”
At the end of the day, it is about getting the mission completed, however possible.
“As brothers-in-arms, working in the same theater, we work together for the same goal,” Stanghellini said.
“It is a good thing for France to work with strong allies like the United States and the United Kingdom,” Bureau said.
And, even in French, freedom translates the same.
“That’s the sound of freedom,” Stanghellini said, pointing to a fighter jet soaring overhead, its engine roaring with power.
As the French begin pulling their combat troops out of theater, the many contributions they have made to OEF and ISAF will remain a piece of history, just like their paintings on the walls at Kandahar.
Article by Senior Airman Alexandria Mosness, U.S. Air Forces Central Public Affairs