Operation Guardian Falcon

 

ISAF

 The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was created in accordance with the Bonn Conference that was held in December 2001 after the ousting of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Afghan opposition leaders attending the conference began the process of reconstructing their country by setting up a new government structure, the Afghan Transitional Authority (ATA). The conference also launched the concept of a UN-mandated international force to assist the newly established ATA in creating a secure environment in and around Kabul and in supporting the reconstruction of Afghanistan. This coalition of the willing, deployed under the authority of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), is since 11 August 2003 supported and led by NATO, and financed by the troop contributing nations. The Alliance is responsible for the command, coordination and planning of the force. This includes providing a force commander and a headquarters on the ground in Afghanistan. NATO’s role in assuming the leadership of ISAF in August 2003 overcame the problem of a continual search to find new nations to lead the mission and the difficulties of setting up a new headquarters in a complex environment every six months. A continuing NATO headquarters also enables small countries, which find it difficult to act as lead nations, to play a strong role within a multinational headquarters. Belgium is such a small country. With its contribution to the NATO-led international force it proves that it is a full member and a reliable partner of the Alliance and that it is willing to share the burden and risk of deploying and employing such a force. With its participation in the international headquarters it can prove that it can do its share in leading large-scale military operations and even act as lead nation in small-scale ones.

 

Operation Eastern Eagle

 The Belgian Air Component participated a first time with four Lockheed Martin F-16AM combat aircraft in the NATO-led UN-mandated ISAF in the second half of 2005. Under Operation Eastern Eagle, the fighter bombers flew from Kabul Afghanistan International Airport (KAIA) from 14 July 2005 till 14 January 2006 and accomplished between 18 and 22 sorties per week, amassing a total of 715 flying hours over the period of six months. The detachment was composed of a mix of personnel from the 2nd Tactical Wing in Florennes (Nos. 1 and 350 Squadrons) and the 10th Tactical Wing in Kleine-Brogel (Nos. 31 and 349 Squadrons) for the entire duration of the deployment. The main objective of Operation Eastern Eagle was to temporarily increase the ISAF capacity and to reinforce peace and stability during the run-up to and the aftermath of the 18 September 2005 parliamentary elections.


Badges of Nos. 1, 31, 349 and 350 Squadron, the Belgian F-16 units participating in Operation Guardian Falcon

 For its first operation in Central Asia, the Belgian F-16 detachment could draw on the operational experience of Dutch F-16 crews deployed to KAIA since late March 2005, on the broad terrain and threat knowledge of the Belgian C-130 crews that were flying missions all over Afghanistan on behalf of the UN and ISAF since 2001 and on the local support of the Belgian ground forces present in and around Kabul since 2003.

 The Koninklijke Luchtmacht (Royal Netherlands Air Force) deployed four Lockheed Martin F-16AM jets to KAIA on 28 March 2005. The experience acquired by the pilots, planners, intelligence analysts and technicians of this detachment was kindly shared with the Belgian Air Component. The Belgian and Dutch air arms cooperate closely since long and their interoperability is very high. From 1996 onwards, they jointly and successfully operated their F-16s from Villafranca (1996-1998) and Amendola (1998-2001) in Italy to participate in the air operations over the Balkans. That success was made possible by the creation in 1996 of the BENELUX Deployable Air Task Force (DATF) in which air assets of Belgium and the Netherlands were combined with a tailored Luxembourg security force in order to optimise the effect of the limited defence resources of the three small neighbouring NATO nations. The size of this embryonic deployable force was enlarged during the NATO summit in Istanbul on 28 and 29 June 2004 when the Ministers of Defence of Belgium and the Netherlands and their counterparts of the other European Participating Air Forces (EPAF) signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the EPAF Expeditionary Air Wing (EEAW). EPAF is the alliance established in the late 1970s by the four European nations that purchased the American F-16 in the mid-1970s and which were later joined by Portugal when it too acquired the F-16. To achieve a high degree of interoperability between the participating F-16 units, EPAF created the Fighter Weapons Instructor Training (FWIT) in the 1980s. During this theoretical and practical course, flight procedures are standardised and combat pilots of the different air arms get accustomed to carrying out missions together. It also encourages tactical thinking and exchange of experience. EEAW allows the five small NATO member states to join up their Fighting Falcons into a cohesive, interoperable and effective combat entity. It also makes it possible to set up an F-16 force consisting of detachments of two or more EPAF nations, using in common the weapon systems, weapons, critical equipment and personnel from all signatory countries, even when some of these are not deployed. Since its creation, EEAW expanded its expertise by including aspects such as operational planning, command and control and logistics. This approach allows a modular contribution of resources from different EPAF nations to form, deploy and employ a comprehensive air capability, without overstressing the capabilities of a single member and with creating an as small as possible logistic footprint.

 From 2001 onwards, detachments of Lockheed C-130H Hercules tactical transport aircraft of the 15th Wing in Melsbroek deployed to Afghanistan, operating from within the country or from neighbouring countries on behalf of humanitarian organisations or ISAF. During their flights from and to Pakistan and all over the ISAF area of operations, the crews gathered a wealth of useful information especially on weather, terrain and possible threats. In both cases, the detachments were composed of Belgian and Portuguese C-130 aircraft and crews, using the DATF agreement between both countries as a basis. When the Portuguese left in the spring of 2005, a close connection was established between the Belgian aircraft and a Danish Hercules, underlining once more the high degree of interoperability between small NATO air arms and their capability to form modularly composed detachments.

 Last but not least, Operation Eastern Eagle could fall back on support of the large Belgian ground force present at KAIA. The first Belgian boots on the ground arrived in Afghanistan on 3 March 2003, when a 160-strong detachment of Air and Land Component troops landed at the international airport in order to secure it and to keep it open for air traffic, at first only military, but later also commercial. The Belgian presence on the ground in and around Kabul came to a peak between August 2004 and February 2005 when around 600 military assisted in securing KAIA, Kabul and its surroundings. Because of its long experience in securing and operating Kabul’s airport, Belgium became KAIA Lead Nation from 1 October 2007 till 30 September 2008. Sharing housing, nourishment, force protection, logistics and administrative support with the deployed ground forces made that the overall size of the F-16 detachment could be limited to 65 personnel.

 Upon returning to Belgium, the detachment commanders and the headquarters staff officers all agreed that their deployment to Afghanistan proved that the proficiency and interoperability of small air forces has reached such a high level that they can participate smoothly in larger-scale international operations and even take the lead in smaller-scale missions.

  

Operation Guardian Falcon

 On 25 July 2008, the Belgian Council of Ministers confirmed its decision in principle of 1 February 2008 to support ISAF a second time with combat air assets under Operation Guardian Falcon (OGF). Approval was given for a deployment of four F-16AM aircraft and 101 personnel (including one liaison officer at the ISAF Headquarters in Kabul) during six months, extendible for another six months and starting on 1 September 2008.

 The different functions within the detachment were carefully pondered and are divided in groups as follows under a 4-strong command, including one pilot-Detachment Commander (DetCo): 13 in the Group Air Operations, including six pilots; 51 in the Group Logistics, including all aircraft maintenance personnel; and 33 in the Group Defence and Support, including a 15-strong Force Protection and a small, 2-strong Medical Detachment. This composition closely reflects the traditional structure of a present-day flying unit of the Belgian Air Component and thus adheres to the principle “Train as you fight”. Personnel rotate every four months, except for pilots, who are relieved every six weeks in order to avoid excessively prolonged battle stress and in order to maintain their flying qualifications in Belgium. Apart from the liaison officer, who is based at the ISAF HQ in Kabul, all personnel are deployed at Kandahar International Airport, also known as Kandahar Airfield (KAF).

 Kandahar International Airport is located approximately 10 miles south-east of Kandahar City in the southern province of Afghanistan with the same name. It was built in the 1960s with US financial and technical assistance. The airfield was occupied by the Soviets in 1979 and severely damaged in the 1980s during the Soviet-Afghan war. It sustained further damage during the US raids in October 2001, when the Taliban government was being removed from power. From 2007 onwards, KAF has been rebuilt and is now being used for both military and commercial flights. At present, it houses nearly 14,000 military from over 15 coalition nations.

FA69 over Afghanistan

 The Belgian detachment was allocated its own living area at KAF. That area was cleared of mines, but still had to be equipped almost from scratch. That is why a preparatory team of construction experts of the 4th Engineer Battalion in Amay and of the Field Accommodation Unit (FAU) at Beauvechain Airbase left for Kandahar on 8 August 2008 to prepare the infrastructure and housing for the Belgian detachment. Personnel and high value equipment were flown in by Belgian Air Component Airbus A.310-222 and C-130H Hercules transport aircraft as well as by a pair of Antonov An-124-100 Ruslans leased in the framework of the multinational Strategic Airlift Interim Solution (SALIS) agreement, of which Belgium is one of 15 NATO signatories. Heavy and bulky equipment was sea freighted by container ship. As KAF regularly comes under attack by mortars and rockets, special attention has been given to protect the installations against such projectiles. Apart from the obvious bunkers, blast walls have been erected between the individual housing units and workplaces. These already proved their effectiveness on 15 December 2008, when a rocket impacted on one of the blast walls, limiting the effect of the explosion to some minor injuries inflicted to three Belgian military, who could leave the Canadian field hospital at KAF after a medical check-up.

 On 1 September 2008, four F-16AM aircraft of the 2nd Tactical Wing left Florennes Airbase and arrived at KAF the following day for a first four month long rotation under Operation Guardian Falcon 1 (OGF 1). The second rotation, OGF 2, started in January 2009 and will be superseded by OF 3 in May 2009 if the extension of the operation is confirmed by the Council of Ministers. Personnel of OGF 1 originate mainly from the 2nd Tactical Wing and are supported by smaller numbers from among others the 10th Tactical Wing and the Defence Headquarters in Evere. For OGF 2 and 3, the main effort will come from Kleine-Brogel Airbase.

 

Mission

 The general mission of all national and international actors in Afghanistan is to recreate the State of Afghanistan following the US invasion of the country, which took place in response to the 11 September 2001 attacks and ended the Afghan civil war that started in 1978. To fulfil this mission, the international community uses political, economic and military means. The latter are represented by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom.

 The overall task of ISAF is to assist the Afghan government in extending its authority and in creating a secure environment allowing humanitarian assistance and reconstruction of the war-beaten country. This means, in concrete terms, that ISAF puts its military forces into action to conduct stability and security operations in coordination with the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), i.e. the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the Afghan National Police (ANP). The implementation of a stable and secure environment represents an essential basis to enable and facilitate the political and economic reconstruction of the country.

FA-111 Afghanistan

Belgian Air Component Lockheed Martin F-16AM FA-117 (and FA-69 higher) over Afghanistan during Rotation 1 of Operation Guardian Falcon (OGF 1). The standard configuration of Belgian F-16s in Afghanistan consists of a pair of Raytheon AIM-9M Sidewinder infrared air-to-air missiles on stations 1 and 9, a pair of laser guided Texas Instruments GBU-12 Paveway II 500 pound (225 kg) general purpose bombs on stations 3 and 7, 510 20 mm rounds for the internal General Electric M61A1 Vulcan cannon and chaff/flares in the Pylon Integrated Dispensing Systems (PIDS) in the two bomb pylons. Two Sargent-Fletcher 370 US gallon (1,400 litres) underwing fuel tanks on stations 4 and 6 provide the necessary range and loiter time over the target area, while the Lockheed Martin AN/AAQ-33 PANTERA/Sniper XR on station 5bis is used for target detection, identification and designation. (© Vador – Belgian Air Component)

 The Belgian F-16 aircraft provide Close Air Support (CAS) to ground forces of ISAF and of ANSF accompanied by an ISAF Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) with an embedded Tactical Air Control Party (TACP). While the Belgian aircraft flew only missions around Kabul and in the areas North and West in 2005, they can now intervene everywhere in Afghanistan. The air-to-air refuelling (AAR) capability gives the F-16 sufficient range to reach even the most remote corners of the country and the two Sargent-Fletcher 370 US gallon (1,400 litres) underwing fuel tanks carried on stations 4 and 6 provide a loiter time of around two hours over the target area. For AAR, the Belgian detachment relies mainly on Dutch, French and American tanker aircraft.

 CAS missions are mainly flown in order to protect the Lines of Communications (LOCs) between the major centres in Afghanistan and to safeguard the Freedom of Movement (FOM) of ISAF and ANSF. CAS missions can be pre-planned or immediate. Examples of pre-planned missions are reconnaissance or observation of LOCs and escorting of convoys in order to timely detect ambushes or roadside bombs. Their course is fully known and the missions are fully planned by the pilots before take-off. Aircraft are available for such missions during 12 hours per day. During the other 12 hours, two aircraft are on CAS Quick Reaction Alert (QRA), while the other two serve as back-up in case of a technical breakdown. QRA aircraft provide CAS to ground troops in immediate need for such support. This duty is assured alternating by the Belgian and Dutch detachments so as to provide a CAS QRA service around the clock, seven days a week. During Operation Eastern Eagle, the CAS QRA aircraft were on Readiness State 90 (RS 90), although most aircraft were airborne in about 30 minutes after the alert was given. It is believed that the same readiness state applies for Operation Guardian Falcon.

  

Rules of engagement

 The Rules of engagement (ROEs) have not been made public, but the Belgian F-16s are deployed in support of ISAF and ANSF, but can – in strict cases of direct life-threatening situations – also intervene on behalf of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). OEF is the US-led multinational operation initiated in October 2001 to counter terrorism and bring security to Afghanistan in collaboration with Afghan forces. Interventions in support of OEF are never pre-planned.

 The Belgian aircraft are tasked by the ISAF Headquarters in Kabul, where a Belgian liaison officer supervises that all tasks are in line with the national directives. This so-called red card holder will countermand all tasks that do not comply with the Belgian national caveats. In addition to this, the Belgian DetCo can appeal to a legal advisor, who is embedded within the detachment at KAF.

 Response is always progressive or gradual. Initially, pilots will try to ease up tension on the ground just by showing their presence. A high speed low pass of a pair of combat jets is often sufficient to dissuade threatening opposing militant forces from further action without the risk of escalating the situation unnecessarily. A next step is show of force. The ROEs allow pilots to fire warning bursts with the F-16’s internal 20 mm cannon. The aim of show of force is to deter by showcasing one’s capabilities and will to act if provoked without engaging in all-out hostilities. Only when neither “show of presence” nor “show of force” can prevent the opposing forces to back off, pilots will proceed to armed intervention.

  

Standard configuration

 To fulfil their mission, the aircraft carry a standard weapon load consisting of 510 20 mm rounds for the internal General Electric M61A1 Vulcan cannon, two 500 pound precision guided bombs and a pair of short-range air-to-air missiles. The use of these weapons is enhanced by a number of new features implemented into the F-16 weapon system recently.

FA111 Standard load Afghanistan

Lockheed Martin F-16AM FA-111 (bove and below) at Kleine-Brogel Airbase showing the standard weapons load carried by the type during Operation Guardian Falcon in Afghanistan: AIM-9M Sidewinder air-to-air missiles, GBU-12 Paveway II precision guided bombs, 20 mm rounds for the internal cannon and chaff/flares in the PIDS of the bomb pylons.

 Although flying guns fell into disuse during the past decennia, they proved to be very useful in recent conflicts as they represent a very precise and powerful way of showing force with a very low risk of collateral damage. Furthermore, the new high velocity, low drag M70 ammunition has increased the cannon’s range in such a way that accurate fire can be opened from distances beyond the effective range of most anti-aircraft weapons present in the Afghan theatre.

 The laser guided Texas Instruments GBU-12 (Guided Bomb Unit) Paveway II 500 pound (225 kg) general purpose bombs, which are carried on stations 3 and 7, are the most suited weapons in the Belgian Air Component’s inventory for armed interventions. Their high precision and small explosive charge in combination with strict ROEs reduce the risk of collateral damage to the best achievable minimum. GBU-12s are detonated by a tail mounted Motorola FMU-139 electronic or Ordtech M-905 mechanic fuse. When launched at high altitude and high speed, the bombs have a range that keeps the launching aircraft outside the effective envelope of the anti-aircraft armament of the opposing forces. Alternatively, the 500 pound (225 kg) GPS-guided Boeing GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) can be carried. As guidance kits for the Mk.82 bomb body have not yet been delivered to the Belgian Air Component – at present it only has the GBU-31, built around the 2,000 pound Mk.84 bomb body, in its inventory – these weapons will have to be provided temporarily by other coalition partners.

 During Operation Eastern Eagle, the Ground Based Air Defence (GBAD) threat level was assessed as medium because man portable infrared surface-to-air missiles like the Russian built Kolomna Strela-2 (SA-7 “Grail”), its Chinese reverse engineered variant Hong Nu-5 (Red Cherry) and the US-made Raytheon FIM-92 Stinger were widespread in the region. There were also strong indications of the presence of the Kolomna Strela-3 (SA-14 “Gremlin”) and Igla (SA-18 “Grouse”), although the use of the SA-18 remained unconfirmed during Operation Eastern Eagle. The latter has now been removed completely from the threat list. Anti-aircraft artillery (AAA), especially the Russian built four-barrel 23 mm self propelled ZSU 23-4 anti-aircraft gun with its RPK-2 “Gun Dish” radar, was not considered a great threat in 2005 as most of the heavy AAA guns had been destroyed earlier and because the use of light AAA was not an observed tactic then. This is still valid. Moreover, present-day tactics make aircraft operate at medium altitude, far above the effective range of this type of AAA. As a consequence, carrying a Northrop Grumman AN/ALQ-131 electronic countermeasures (ECM) pod was then and still is today deemed not necessary. The threat of small arms fire and rocket propelled grenades (RPG), though omnipresent, is considered, as in 2005, low for high-speed aircraft such as the F-16. GBAD threats thus remain at large unchanged since Operation Eastern Eagle. As a consequence, countermeasures applied today are the same as in 2005 and mainly consist of adapted operational procedures and the use of flares and chaff against infrared sol-air missiles and radar guided AAA respectively. Aircraft operate at medium altitude, which is made possible by the use of precision guided weapons and high performance sensors as well as by the absence of long range anti-aircraft weapons. To avoid small arms fire and SAMs during take-off and landing, so-called Grail-departures and Grail-recoveries are generally applied. Immediately after take-off, aircraft build up speed at very low level before initiating a fast and steep climb, which keeps them out of the effective envelope of small arms and Man Portable Air Defence Systems (MANDPADS). Landings are initiated high over the airfield at altitudes far above the ceiling of the most common sol-air missiles present in the theatre. Descents are made with the engine idling in order to minimise the aircraft’s heath signature.

FA111 Afghanistan load out

 When on the ground, the most important threat to the aircraft comes from mortar or rocket attacks. These, however, miss accuracy caused by the low degree of sophistication of the weapons used and the large distances from which they are fired. Kandahar Airfield and its surroundings are defended mainly by the Royal Air Force Regiment, and as an expert of the airfield defence unit of the 10th Tactical Wing put it: “These guys are doing a first rate job over there”.

 Although the air threat over Afghanistan is low, the aircraft carry a pair of Raytheon AIM-9M Sidewinder infrared air-to-air missiles on stations 1 and 9 for self-defence as a complement to the internal cannon.

 Recent years saw the introduction of a number of new capabilities that considerably improve the use of the F-16 as a weapon system.

 Most Belgian F-16 aircraft are now at Mid-Life Update Tape M4 (MLU-M4) software and hardware standard. This means that they are among the most modern and most capable combat jets of the world today.

 During its meeting of 31 March 2006, the Belgian Council of Ministers approved the procurement of 8 AN/AAQ-33 PANTERA (Precision Attack Navigation and Targeting with Extended Range Acquisition) advanced targeting pods as a complement to the 8 AN/AAQ-14 LANTIRN (Low-Altitude Navigation and Targeting Infra-Red for Night) pods acquired in 1997. The contract with Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control was signed on 7 February 2007 through the foreign military sales programme and the first pods were delivered early in 2008. The PANTERA pod is the export version of the Sniper XR (Extended Range) and performs substantially better than its predecessor. Its third generation high-resolution FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) and daylight CCD-TV camera combined with an almost rock-steady stabilisation system give the pod an unparalleled long-range target detection, identification and designation accuracy from altitudes of up to 40,000 feet, which is 3 to 5 times better than that of LANTIRN. The pod can be operated from distances outside the lethal envelope of most ground-based air defence systems, as well as outside jet noise ranges for urban counter-insurgency operations. The built-in digital data recorder allows saving images and bringing them back for further analysis, adding new capabilities in meeting the challenges of non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.

Sniper pod

The AN/AAQ-33 PANTERA (Precision Attack Navigation and Targeting with Extended Range Acquisition) advanced targeting pod, commonly known by its US designation "Sniper" pod

 PANTERA’s laser spot tracker, laser marker and real-time video downlink improve coordination with ground forces and reduce sensor-to-shooter time considerably. TACPs equipped with a Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER) can in near real-time obtain secure TV quality infra-red and daylight images from PANTERA pod carrying aircraft. The pilot’s situational awareness is improved by data that he can receive through the aircraft’s secure Link 16from other aircraft and sensors present in the theatre.

 The use of Night Vision Goggles (NVG) during Operation Eastern Eagle not only improved the pilot’s combat effectiveness during the night, but also enhanced flight safety. From OGF 2 onwards, pilots are also using the recently acquired Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS). This system, developed by Video Systems International (VSI), is connected with the aircraft’s radar and weapon system and projects the most critical flight and target data graphically on the pilot’s visor. This increases flight safety and situational awareness as the pilot can continue flying safely without having to check critical flight data on the Head-up Display (HUD) or in the cockpit regularly. It also broadens the pilot’s narrow field of view through the HUD of a mere 20° in front of the aircraft to an angle as wide as the pilot’s ability to move his head and eyes to the left and right or up and down. JHMCS enables the pilot to accurately cue onboard weapons against enemy aircraft or ground targets just by looking at them, a feature realised by a pair of cameras in the helmet constantly following the movement of his eyes and by a magnetic field in the cockpit registering every movement of his helmet. Adapting and calibrating a new helmet to an individual pilot takes about four hours and was done by personnel of the Section “Survival” of the 10th Wing. Specialists of Boeing assisted personnel of the unit’s Section “Integrated Weapon System” in making the cockpit of the aircraft JHMCS-compatible, which mainly means installing a control panel, the necessary interfaces for the system and seat and helmet position sensors. This took around two hours per aircraft. The first flights with the new helmet were carried out by the 10th Tactical Wing on 13 November 2008. According to Commandant Henk “Joss” Desnyder, MLU-M4 and JHMCS project officer at Kleine-Brogel Airbase, pilots only need one additional flight to accustom to the new helmet. The programme will be completed by 2010. The aircraft deployed under OGF 1 were not yet adapted for the use of the JHMCS. That is why they were replaced by modified aircraft in early January 2009.

JHMCS and NVG

JHMCS

Belgian F-16AM pilots used night vision goggles operationally for the first time during Operation Eastern Eagle in Afghanistan in 2005. The newly acquired Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System is at present being used for the first time during the ongoing Operation Guardian Falcon. JHMCS is NVG compatible.

Preparations

 Of the many coalition partners present at KAF, the Belgians work closest in association with the Dutch. The many years of working together in NATO, DATF, EPAF and FWIT make that this professional collaboration runs very smoothly. The main areas of cooperation are AAR (e.g. the Belgian aircraft that deployed to KAF in January 2009 were supported by a Dutch KDC-10), mission preparation (e.g. exchange of intelligence) and mission support (e.g. delivery of liquid oxygen for Dutch F-16s by Belgian Hercules transport aircraft). On the other hand, missions are always flown in pairs, but the aircraft never originate from different nations.

 During the four months preceding their deployment, personnel are trained in the application of the ROEs in the air and on the ground, the procedures of collaboration with troops on the ground as well as the use of all weapon systems eligible to be operated during their tour of duty. Pilots also receive a thorough training in individual survival skills in environments ranging from the boiling hot desert to the freezing cold mountains. To that end, the standard European theatre survival kit in the ACES II ejection seat of the F-16 has been adapted to the Afghan theatre. The dinghy has been replaced by extra water rations, additional means for storage of water collected in nature and extra waterproof and thermally insulating protective clothing. Survival essential equipment like the individual handgun with ammunition, a GPS-linked emergency radio with extra batteries and distress signalling equipment are worn directly on the body in a specially developed combat vest.

 As said before, workplaces and the rest and relief zone have been engineered in such a way that they offer maximum protection against mortar and rocket attacks. In addition to that, a warning system for incoming rockets and shells is deployed at KAF and all Belgian personnel have been made familiar with the appropriate procedures to follow. The 15-strong national Force Protection has three major tasks. In the operational zone of the airfield, they keep an eye on the Belgian aircraft. At the entrance of the Belgian rest and relief zone, they check all personnel and visitors. Finally, they are, like all other nations, responsible for the safety of their own VIP-guests. Locally hired manpower and local suppliers represent the main threat in all these cases, albeit a rather low one as they all have been screened and checked thoroughly before. All Belgian personnel also received profound specific mission oriented training. Briefings on cultural awareness must allow them to develop good relationships with the Afghan population by respecting their values, traditions and customs. In order to combat drug smuggling and human trafficking, they were also made familiar with signs and indications helping them to detect such these activities.

 To prevent retaliation against relatives of deployed pilots, their identity is not revealed. The press is also requested to publish only photographs with faces and nametags made unrecognisable. The sole exception to this rule is the DetCo, who also acts as contact point for the press.

  

Provisional results

 The Belgian Air Component is not reluctant to release much detail on Operation Guardian Falcon as long as it is ongoing. Missions are flown daily and can last up to four or five hours with one or two AARs. On average, the four aircraft total around 200 flying hours per month. According to Lieutenant-General August Van Daele, Chief of Defence, armed intervention deemed necessary during “a number of these missions”.

  

Belgians in Afghanistan

 In addition to the 100 military at KAF in the framework of Operation Guardian Falcon, more than 300 other Belgian Defence personnel are active in Afghanistan. The majority of these, 261, are based at KAIA, where Belgium was lead nation in securing and running the military airport, from 1 October 2007 till 30 September 2008. Also present in Kabul are 14 Belgian Defence staff members, 9 at the international ISAF HQ and 5 as Liaison Officers between ISAF and Belgian troops.

 Twenty-five Belgians reinforce the German Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the northern province of Kunduz. Two are active at the ISAF Regional Command - North HQ in Mazar-e Sharif.

 On 5 January 2009, a 16-strong advance party of a Belgian OMLT left for Kabul. Eventually, the team will reach a numerical strength of 69, 21 of which will be full-time mentors and another 21 dual-hatted mentors. During a period of twelve months, the Belgian mentors will train the 1,200 personnel of the 2nd Battalion / 2nd Brigade / 209th “Falcon” Corps of the ANA, at first in Kabul, later at the unit’s barracks situated just north of the city of Kunduz. The ANA has an authorised strength of 134,000. Little over half of these (68,000) had been trained by the end of 2008. On the occasion of the departure of the advance party, Major General Eddy Testelmans, Head of the Land Component, revealed that new equipment like Improvised Explosive Device (IED) jammers and Harris Falcon III AN/PRC-117F Multiband Manpack Radios had been acquired specifically for this mission.

Airbus CA-02

The advance parties of Rotation 2 of Operation Guardian Falcon and of the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team for the 209th ANA Corps are seen boarding Airbus A.310-222 CA-02 at Melsbroek Airbase in the early morning of 5 January 2009. The aircraft brought them to Dushanbe International Airport, Tajikistan, from where they travelled by Lockheed C-130H Hercules tactical transport aircraft to Kandahar Airfield and Kabul Afghanistan International Airport respectively

 From what precedes, it is clear that the Belgian Defence is taking its fair share of burden and risk throughout the numerous military interventions UN, NATO and EU are part in at present. Participation in international operations in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Lebanon and Chad shows that the leadership, equipment and training of the Belgian military is keeping pace with the major large armed forces of the western world.

 

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 Text and pictures by

© Jos Schoofs (January 2009)

 

Last updated 05/02/15 08:20   Daniel Brackx

brackda@gmail.com