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Afghanistan, 1979-2001; Part 2 PDF Print E-mail
Contributed by Tom Cooper with additional details by Troung and Marc Koelich   
Feb 10, 2008 at 07:30 PM
Part 2 of this article covers air warfare during inter-Afghan fighting, from 1988 until 2001, including a unique and detailed study of different air arms that operated during this time (especially the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Air Force" (or "Taliban AF"))

Afghanistan Without Soviets

After the Soviet pull-out, in 1989, the official Afghan Army retreated into the larger cities, fortifying them in the process. The Soviets had left behind massive amounts of military equipment and this allowed the Afghan armed forces to hold onto what territory they still controlled. The DRAAF, which had been built up by the Soviets during and after their pull-out, was tasked with supporting the army in its defence of the cities. DRAAF MiG-21s flew constant close-air-support (CAS) and interdiction missions in the face of such deadly threats like Stinger MANPADs and heavy machine guns. The DRAAF pilots showed a great deal of accuracy in delivering their cluster bombs and unguided rockets mainly against such targets like supply columns and groups of rebels, even though they flew at high altitudes to dodge the Stingers.

The Afghan Army also used SS-1B SCUD battlefield surface-to-surface missiles to attack Mujaheddin concentrations from a distance (rumoured to have been manned by Soviet “advisers” left behind). The SCUD was actually an area weapon and unable to hit precisely, yet they proved effective – especially because the rebels had nothing to counter them with. Eventually, the Afghan Army fired over 1.000 SS-1B SCUDs against different Mujaheddin parties.

Otherwise, the DRAAF was mainly busy supplying different garrisons that were either cut-off or under a siege. By this time most of the roads connecting large cities – all of which were still under the control of the government – had been cut off by the guerrilla, leaving the DRAAF’s considerable transport fleet as the only way of providing supplies to local Army units and keeping the local population fed.

DRAAF Order of Battle in 1988

In 1988, as the Soviets were in the middle of their pull-out from Afghanistan, the DRAAF consisted of following units:

- 232. OBVP 20 Mi-4, Mi-6, Mi-8 stationed at Kabul International

- 321. BAP 60 Su-22M-3K, Su-22M-4K, Su-17UM-2K stationed at Baghram AB

- 322. IAP 60 MiG-21MF/bis (four squadrons) stationed at Baghram AB, but with detachments at Shindand and several other airfields

- 332. OBVP ? Mi-8 helicopters stationed at Jurum

- 355. BAP 30 Il-28 and MiG-17, stationed at Shindand, but with most Il-28s at Kabul and in unrepairable condition: it seems this unit was also equipped with L-39s and acted as training outfit

- 375. OBVP 25 Mi-24D/Mi-35V and Mi-8/17, with main base at Mazar-e Sharif

- 377. OBVP 25 Mi-35V, Mi-8, Mi-17 stationed at Kabul International

- 393. IAP 50 MiG-21MF/bis stationed at Mazar-e Sharif

- 377. OBVP 25 Mi-35V, Mi-8, Mi-17, stationed at Kabul International (and other bases)

- ? TAP with 40 An-2, Il-14, An-26/30/32 transports, stationed mainly at Kabul International.

Rear-guard Action

Once the Soviets were out of Afghanistan the outside observers expected a swift fall of the government in Kabul. The situation was to develop completely in a different direction.

Due to inter-Mujaheddin and inner-Pakistani power struggles, in 1989 the immense ISI’s arms and supply depot in Quetta, in Pakistan, was destroyed in a terrible explosion – which caused also dozens of deaths. Consequently, the rebels were soon running short of supplies, and their rocket-barrages fired at Kabul and other Afghan cities decreased.

Nevertheless, in April 1989 they moved to take Jalalabad, which most observers expected to fall quickly. During this siege, the Mujaheddin combat discipline – always poor – fell apart and they were unable to make a major push into the city, but suffered heavy losses instead. The DRAAF was very active during the siege, launching MiG-21s into daily strikes against forward and rear positions of the rebels: the pilots usually operated above the effective Stinger range and dropped cluster bombs to disrupt the flow of supplies towards the front, as well as damage the enemy morale. In fact, the DRAAF felt so confident the city would not fall, that they flew-in a team of journalists by helicopter, to show them Jalalabad was still safely in the hands of the Afghan government. Najibullah was also flown in by helicopters during these battles, in order to witness their development for himself. The DRAA troops held firm and – with quite some DRAAF support – inflicted dreadful losses upon the Mujaheddin.

What actually ended the siege was infighting by the Mujaheddin, who eventually pulled back in disarray, with their commanders distrusting each other more than ever before. This was one of the blackest hours of Afghan “Holly Warriors”, and a true “blackeye” for the ISI, which actually coordinated and controlled this operation. With the lifting of the siege the road from Jalalabad to Kabul was re-opened for ground convoys.

By July a fresh push was made on the city, when final shipments of material support arrived from the USA, to replace materiel lost in Quetta explosion. Nevertheless, on 4 July the Mujaheddin were pre-empted by the Afghan Army, which – with support from the DRAAF - attacked forward rebel positions and took control of the areas around the city. DRAAF MiG-21s were once again present in attacking the Mujaheddin, who pulled back further and melted away under the attack. During the winter the Mujaheddin attacked the city once again and took control of two government positions, which they were able to hold. Yet they had suffered heavy losses to both artillery and DRAAF fight bombers.


In February 1990, during the fighting in the Abbassak Pass, and in March 1990, during the fighting north of Kabul, the Mujaheddin cut off the last land connection between Kabul and the Soviet Union. The Afghan Air Force then started suffering a series of heavy blows: in December 1989 two DRAAF-pilots flew their Mi-34Vs to Panjshir Valley, and deserted to Massoud’s side (these two helicopters remained operational for the following ten years). On 5 March 1990, DRAAF Gen. Tanai, CO Baghram AB, attempted a coup against President Najibullah. Three fighter-bombers took part in this coup and bombed the presidential palace and other government buildings. The troops loyal to Najibullah, however, put the coup down after intense urban fighting in Kabul. General Tanai then escaped to Pakistan – together with his family and followers – aboard a hijacked DRAAF An-26 transport and one Mi-8 helicopter, both of which were first impounded in Pakistan, and subsequently entered service with the PAF.

Nevertheless, the damage was done. Afterwards only few DRAAF as well as different “special” units and the units of the Inner Ministry remained loyal to Najibullah regime. By late 1991, the official Afghan Army was actually non-existing, as the units either disintegrated due to desertions, or the local commanders disobeyed the orders from Kabul and took over the control. Najibullah was meanwhile negotiating with different political parties and rebel-commanders, and an agreement was reached for creation of an interim government. However, the Mujaheddin also started to fight each other and what little was left of any official structures on their side soon fell apart as well: this was the moment when the USA have lost the patience and interest, and have pulled out as well, stopping any kind of deliveries to the Pakistanis, ISI, or the Mujaheddin, in turn leaving them without any help and financial support. At least in theory, the Afghan regime could have used this opportunity to re-take territory held by the rebels, but it was meanwhile not in condition to undertake such operations. Instead, by the time Najibullah relied on DRAAF MiGs and SCUD-Bs for attacking his enemies: the DRAAF was only tasked with attacking sites from which guerrilla used to rocket Kabul. Yet, the highly-mobile rebels were extremely problematic to catch in open terrain and would always simply come back to fire their weapons. Consequently, in an attempt to take some pressure off of the regular Army, Najibullah ordered creation of ethnic militias, made up of Uzbekhs and Hazaras, which were to control their own areas and thus free additional troops loyal to the government. This eventually helped start the “warlordism” in government-controlled areas.

By October 1990 the Mujaheddin felt strong enough to make a push on Kabul. This operation, however, was undertaken by Hekmatyar and his Hezb-e-Islami, and swiftly smashed by Kabul’s garrison in conjunction with heavy air strikes by DRAAF fighter bombers and helicopter gunships, SCUD-B missiles and heavy artillery. The Mujaheddin broke and left the battlefield giving Najibullah some breathing space. During the winter the DRAAF fighter bombers and attack helicopters continued bombing the Mujaheddin around Kabul and inflicted heavy losses on them. In addition, the Soviets continued supplying Najibullah’s regime with arms and supplies, flying weapons and food to Kabul: up to 30 Soviet transport aircraft landed at Baghram AB and Kabul/Qahra International Airport every day.

Still, the war continued as the Mujaheddin looked for more vulnerable targets. They moved to take the city of Khost which had been long surrounded: by March they launched an offensive to take the city, held by a garrison of only some 3.000 regular Army troops. The DRAAF flew high level bombing attacks to avoid the Stinger missiles and several SCUD-Bs were fired in support of the garrison. Eventually, Khost fell not by force but through diplomacy.

(Five) Afghan Air Force(s) in 1992

In October 1991, some Pakistani-supported Mujaheddin fractions attacked Gardez with 300 tanks and artillery pieces they received from Saudi Arabia (most of this material was captured from the Iraqis, in February 1991), which were crewed by former Army officers and a number of foreign mercenaries. Poor training, collapse of logistics, and non-existing tactics made all the heavy equipment of little use: the Mujaheddin proved unable to use their T-55s and T-62s as anything but moving pillboxes, making them easy targets for the DRAAF fighter-bombers and conventionally trained Afghan Army, well-equipped with anti-tank weapons. Therefore, even if the Najibullah’s regime was also slow to respond on attack upon Gardez, the DRAAF fighter-bombers and attack helicopters inflicted considerable losses upon poorly coordinated Mujaheddin.

By the time the regular military of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was already in the process of collapse: defection reached wholesale proportions, especially between units stationed away from Kabul, eventually resulting in whole garrisons and airfields changing sides over the night. The result was a creation of a number of separate “air forces”, each of which was under command of another “warlord”.


Despite the loss of aircraft and units that joined Dostum, in late 1991 the DRAAF was still a considerable force, being left in control of Su-22M-3Ks and Su-22M-4Ks of the 321. IBAP (at Baghram AB), the 322. IAP with perhaps 65 MiG-21s (also at Baghram AB), the 377. OBVP (at Kabul/Qahra International), and the 332. OBVP (stationed at Jurum). In October 1991, the USSR planned to deliver 15 Su-24MKs to the DRAAF, but this was cancelled because of the generally poor condition of the service.

The DRAAF still marked its aircraft with the roundel in use since 1983, consisting of black, green and red, with white field and red star in the middle. This was applied in very different sizes, probably depending on who applied it, or the batch with which the aircraft was supplied to Afghanistan. In some cases, the roundel – always carried on the fin – was quite sizeable, with height the time at which the aircraft and – by early 1990s – frequently well worn-out on many aircraft. Serials were still the same as those used in the 1980s and 1990s, applied in white or red on aircraft, and black on helicopters: there are no signs that any were changed while the aircraft were still operated by the DRAAF.

In 1992 all the remaining intact DRAAF aircraft were taken over by different "new" air forces that meanwhile became active in Afghanistan, and have got completely new insignia.

This Su-20M was last seen abandoned and in derelict condition at Baghram AB, after this was re-captured by Massoud's forces, in 1998. The aircraft was still showing remnants of what were once before DRAAF markings, which means that it was probably not flown after 1992 any more. Namely, all the operational aircraft left behind the DRAAF have subsequently got markings of one of four other Afghan Air Forces that were involved in this war. (All artworks by Tom Cooper)

- Dostum’s Militia

During the battle for Gardez, and especially after this defeat, the rivalry between different Mujaheddin groups escalated, and the battle ended with them fighting each other. Under these circumstances one of the local landlords, Gen. Rasheed Dostum, established himself as the man in power in NW Afghanistan: he organized his own militia, which took away the equipment of two full army divisions and a good part of the DRAAF. Dostum was soon powerful enough to reach Kabul as well, where he then turned the coat and put himself on Massoud’s side: he became a prototype of an Afghan warlord. Although his militia consisted of former Army troops and was well-equipped with former Army weaponry, it was not the part of the Army. Nevertheless, he still controlled a sizeable force of Uzbek and Tajik militiamen and ex-DRAA soldiers.

Exactly how many aircraft and helicopters Dostum controlled remains unknown, but it was estimated that he brought the whole 375 OVP at Mazar-e-Sharif under control, together with the local airfield and some 60 MiG-21s and Su-22s, 60 helicopters, 200 T-55s and T-62 tanks and plenty of artillery. Dostum’s militia boasted up to 60.000 fighters at the time, and could reach back on extensive supply depots left behind from the former Afghan Army, and considerable stocks of spare parts and weapons taken over from the DRAAF. Dostum was also supported by Uzbekistan, from where he was getting spare parts for his tanks and aircraft.

Aircraft and helicopters of Dostum’s militia wore distinct markings, consisting of a roundel with triangle in black, green and red on white circle (essentially, this was the same marking as used on Afghan Air Force aircraft from 1960s until 1978, and ever since 2002; the reason was that Dostum considered himself as a successor of the republican regime of the 1970s: he even used a similar flag). The roundel was usually quite large, and always applied on the fin – directly over old DRAAF-markings. It remains unclear if it was applied in four or six positions, then there are no clear photographs of Dostum’s aircraft as seen from above. Serials were retained, i.e. the same the aircraft have got when delivered to the DRAAF, usually applied in red or white (on MiG-21s and Su-20/22s), or black (helicopters).

The DGMAF was probably the best-ever equipped and armed militia under control of any warlord ever. It operated up to 60 MiG-21 and Su-22 fighter-bombers from 1992 until 1997. This potent force eventually fell apart, not only through heavy combat attrition or lack of spares, but also because of many defectors flying their aircraft either to Massoud or to the Taliban. Few of surviving DGMAF MiGs, including this one, were also captured by Taliban when B aghram AB was conquered, and then re-captured by Massoud's forces in 1998, when this airfield was re-taken. During their hastily pull-out from the airfield the Taleban sabotaged this MiG-21bis and many other aircraft, in order to prevent them being used any further. Most of the planes were subsequently left to lie where they were disabled until the US forces arrived - and destroyed them in early bombardments! This MiG-21bis is otherwise wearing its old DRAAF serial (applied by brush and without stencils) and the DGMAF-fin-flash on the fin (applied directly over the old DRAAF flash). Note the red field in the lower portion of the triangle, indicating the DGMAF insignia. The camouflage colours indicate that the aircraft was built at Znamya Truda plant, probably together with a number of MiG-21bis' delivered to different African countries, but never returned to the USSR for a major overhaul.

- Jamiat-e-Islami Forces (Massoud)
The force essentially led by Ahmad-Shah Massoud operated no aircraft during this period of the war, but already had at least two Mi-35 and several Mi-8/17 helicopters. These had their DRAAF marking overpainted, and a roundel similar to that of Dostum’s Militia applied instead. The roundel consisted of a white field with superimposed triangle in black, green and white (instead of red, as on Dostum’s aircraft). This roundel was sometimes outlined in black, and always applied on the fin of fighter aircraft and transports, or on the rear fuselage of helicopters – in the same fashion as on DRAAF and Dostum’s machines; all the serials were those retained from DRAAF times.

One of Northern Coallition Air Force aircraft captured at Baghram by Taliban was this MiG-21FL, one of only few survivors from a batch supplied in the 1970s. The DRAAF operated at least 12 of these fighters, but most were camouflaged in brown, sand and green. At which point has this aircraft got a coat of light blue over upper surfaces remains unknown, but what was left of its camouflage by 1998 was badly worn out. Note that the lower field of the triangle on the roundel was left white - which identifies this aircraft as one flown by Massoud's forces.

This former DRAAF MiG-21bis was also captured by Massoud's forces, probably in 1992, and pressed into service with the Afghan Air Force, in 1992. The exact reason for this aircraft being abandoned remains unclear, but it was obviously in-operational already by the time the Taliban captured Baghram AB.

- Hezb-e-Islami Forces (Hekmatyar)
The few Helicopters that came under control of Hekmatyar’s forces wore a roundel similar to that applied on Dostum’s aircraft, i.e. consisting of a white field with superimposed triangle in black, green, and red.

- Hezb-e-Wahadat Forces

While hardly anything is known about this, the Hezb-e-Wahadat forces also acquired a number of Mi-17 helicopters and rushed them to service. These were marked with an elaborate roundel, probably including an emblem taken from their flag. The only confirmed serial of any of the Mi-17MDs they marked this way was white 657 (see artwork bellow).

An Afghan mystery: the appearance of Mi-17MD with Hezb-e-Wahadat forces in the second half of the 1990s was definitely a surprise, then this version is in production only since 1995. However, a video presented on German TV showed also this example, serialled "657", as in operation with Hezb-e-Wahdat during the fighting with Taliban, in 1996 or 1997. Nothwitstanding the poor condition of most of the Afghan air forces at the time, it is known that different arms dealers - foremost Viktor Bout - were supplying heavy weapons to different fractions in the country. It is possible that this was also how this helicopter found its way in Afghanistan as well. Otherwise, it appears to have been originally painted green overall, with sploches of sand added at a later stage. Undersides are in light blue. There is some uncertainity about the exact colours, as the video was not showing the entire helicopter and colours were also not exactly clear, but "dark green & sand" is certainly the best description, and the camouflage pattern on the fuselage as well as the serial and its position can be considered as "confirmed". The easily recognizible Hezb-e-Wahdat roundel was applied on the usual place - on the rear of the fuselage - perhaps over the old insignia. Of interest is also the radome painted in light green: as a recognition aid?

Collapse of Najibullah’s Regime

In early 1992 Dostum felt confident and strong enough to mingle in the war in Tajikistan, where Islamist forces swept a post-Communist regime from power: his force helped in the evacuation of many refugees over Amudarja river into Afghanistan, while flying a number of attacks against Communist positions.

Meanwhile, there was movement in Afghanistan as well, as Pakistani and Saudi intermediaries attempted to bring together different Mujaheddin fractions in order to remove Najibullah’s regime once and for all. Eventually, an agreement was reached for Massoud and Hekmatyar to join their units and execute a final assault on Kabul.

However, before they were able to fully integrate their forces, on 25 April 1992, the elements of Massoud's and Hekmatyar's fractions entered Kabul separately, on 25 April 1992. Better planning and possession of some 50 tanks enabled Massoud to capture all the important installations in the city, despite the fact that his Mujaheddins encountered more resistance from Hekmatyar’s Mujaheddin, than from the remnants of the regular Army. Dostum then joined Massoud and his aircraft and helicopters were used for a swift transport of reinforcements into the city (which in part caused some sources to mix Dostum’s aircraft with those used by Massoud). The Pakistani-supported Hekmatyar was outraged by his own failure: while his fighters were savaging parts of the city that came under his control, he ordered indiscriminate attack against neighbourhoods held by Massoud by BM-21s and heavy artillery. Before the Dostum-Militia’s fighter-bombers were able to scramble and silence Hekmatyar’s rocket launchers and artillery in a series of effective strikes (mainly flown by Su-22s), over 40.000 civilians were killed in Kabul: those that survived this massacre were never to forget about it.

Meanwhile, Dostum and Massoud were not to stop: supported by Dostum's fighter-bombers Massoud’s Mujaheddin captured the Kabul/Qahra International Airport. As soon as the site was secured, on early morning of 26 April 1992, Dostum's An-12Bs and An-26s flew most of Massoud's units into the Afghani capital, and from the following morning Massoud and Dostum were controlling Kabul - or what was left of it - alone, but quasi in the name of all the Mujaheddin, placing the Tajik leader Rabbani as “Transitional President of Afghanistan”. For a moment it appeared the war in Afghanistan was over: Najibullah’s regime was past, and the Mujaheddin were finally in Kabul. Effectively, the fight should have ended here.

The DGMAF operated a large number of former DRAAF helicopters, including few old Mi-8s. This example wears a camouflage pattern in colours that were widespread also between late DRAAF, as well as most of DGMAF Mi-17s too. The serial, "0037" is slightly unusual, then three-digit serials were standard with the DRAAF. But, it appears that at least few other DGMAF and even some IEAAF Mi-17s wore similar, four digit serials (an IEAAF Mi-17 was shown on a parade in Kabul, in summer 2001, wearing a similar camouflage pattern and a four-digit serial, albeit applied in white). In 1992 the DGMAF helicopters were crucial for Massoud's success in conquering Kabu, when they were used to transport Jamiat-e-Islami troops into the city.

Mujaheddin vs. Mujaheddin

Instead of negotiating about peace, the Afghani fractions now turned against each other. The problem was that after Pakistan and Saudi Arabia stopped their support for Hekmatyar because of his order Kabul to be shelled, which resulted in a death of 40.000 citizens and refugees: this did not matter in Islamabad nor Ryad very much since quite some times, then both countries were disappointed by Hekmatyar’s performance on battlefield any way. Instead of supporting Hekmatyar, however, the Pakistanis and Saudis now turned to other warlords, using their differences in order to gain influence. Clearly, this could not result in anything else but extension of the war.

Already in summer of 1992 there was new fighting, as Dostum engaged Hezb-e-Islami forces in the Charasiab area. Still well-supported by the ISI, the local Mujaheddin were also armed with FIM-92A Stingers, and they shot down at least three of Dostum’s fighter-bombers. The fighting in the area ceased only in October 1992, when Hekmatyar – newly supplied with ex-Iraqi artillery from Saudi Arabia via Pakistan (upon agreeing to “listen” to his foreign advisers) - began shelling Kabul again, on 14 October 1992, in an attempt to prepare an assault on the city.

Dostum's Militia Air Force was still very much operational and deployed to fly strikes against Hekmatyar's artillery positions, but it was once again too late and not enough: the shelling was so terrible, that most of the city was ruined and all the foreign diplomats have left. By February 1993, when Massoud and Dostum managed to push Hekmatyar out of the artillery range, major parts of Kabul were reduced to a little more but immense piles of rubble and wreckage.

Rabbani remained in power nevertheless, of course, and once he stabilized his rule he offered the position of Defence Minister to Dostum. The warlord was not entirely happy about this offer, so there followed another quarrel, and Massoud became Defence Minister instead. Outraged, Dostum then turned sides, shortly after re-emerging as an ally of Hekmatyar, and joining his forces with those of Hezb-e-Islami into what became known as “Dostum-Golboddin Militia” (DGM – named so after Dostum and Hekmatyar’s first name).

When some other fractions joined the DGM, in late 1993, it included more than 70% of the former Afghan Army and DRAAF, and was by far the most powerful military alliance in the country. The Air Force of the Dostum-Golboddin Militia – DGMAF – was under command of Gen. Barir, with HQs at Mazar-e-Sharif AB. Gen. Barir was known to have flown many combat sorties himself; this was especially the case when the DGMAF started bombing Kabul and Baghram in support of a new attack against Massoud's troops. The strike against Baghram largely prevented the operations of the rest of the former DRAAF. However, by early January 1994, the official Afghan Air Force (AAF) – meanwhile under direct control of Massoud, and wearing the insignia of the former Jamiat-e-Islami aviation – was operational again. When DGMAF MiG-21s appeared over Kabul on the early morning of 12 January 1994, two of them were shot down in air combats with AAF MiG-21MFs. One of downed DGMAF pilots was captured.

Slightly over a week later, on 23 January, the DGMAF repeated the strike against Baghram, damaging one runway heavily. However, this force was - due to its cooperation with Hekmatyar – meanwhile in dire straits with its own personnel: so it happened that this “attack” turned into an outright catastrophe when no less but four DGMAF-pilots deserted, landing their intact and operational aircraft on the undamaged second runway of Baghram AB. Barely minutes later three others also landed at Shindand AB – held by Hezb-e-Wahdat forces – so that it appears that only the strike leader, probably Gen. Barir, returned with his plane back to Mazar-e-Sharif.

Nevertheless, the DGMAF continued operations and flew some more combat sorties during 1994, as, after failing to take Kabul, the DGM turned to conquer other parts of Afghanistan. It is known, for example, that on 19 March one of DGMAF MiG-21s was shot down during the fighting with Ismail Khan's troops near Balkh, in south-western Afghanistan. At least a dozen of other DGM aircraft - including MiG-21s, Su-22s, and different transports - were shot down over different battlefields by the end of the year. By May, however, they had to move their main base away from Mazar-e Sharif, as the airfield there was captured by Massoud's troops: afterwards, the DGMAF could only operate from several smaller airfields - former dispersal sites - in northern Afghanistan, where they were supported by technicians and spare parts provided from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

New Threat in the Block

While the Rabbani and Massoud were busy with DGM in the northern and western Afghanistan, another - and completely unknown – threat emerged in the south: the south: the Pakistani-created and Saudi-financed TALIBAN.

Most of the original Taliban were scholars from Qoran Schools in Pakistan; while they included a considerable number of “Afghans”, with the time the Pakistanis and different Arabs became a majority. The Taliban were originally founded by the ISI after the terrible disappointment with Hekmatyar: the spread of their influence in Afghanistan was so well organized (and financed by Saudis), that within few weeks after their appearance in 1994 no less but 70% of the country came under their control, many of "invincible" Mujaheddin were defeated, and the Rabbani's government remained only in possession of Kabul and the areas further in the north-east of the country. During November the Taliban captured Qandahar AB, together with six intact MiG-21 fighters as well as four intact Mi-17 helicopters.

In February 1995, the Taliban conquered areas held by Hekmatyar, completely destroying the Hezb-e-Islami and capturing more than 200 MBTs, and APCs, as well as few helicopters in the process. The DGM, already badly damaged by previous battles against Massoud, held only slightly longer: by that time, it was in need of new weapons and spare parts as these were not forthcoming from the CIS-states without proper payments any more. The DGMAF was very busy as well, attacking Ismail Khan’s forces near Kherat: the city was put under bombardments by MiG-21s and Khan eventually had to admit the inability of his forces to fight several enemies at once. In one moment Dostum was confronted with such problems that exchanged several of his fighter-bombers for two Uzbeki L-39s, in order to be able to train his pilots properly. During the flight to Uzbekistan, on 26 January 1995, one of the ex-DGMAF Su-22s crashed, however, and thus Dostum received two L-39s less than expected. The condition of remaining aircraft and helicopters was meanwhile poor: in February 1995 a Mi-17 crashed after the rotor disintegrated in flight.

By March 1995, the Taliban were marching on Hekmatyar's last sizeable garrison in Charasiab: the local Mujaheddin fled without firing even a single shot. As if this would not be enough, Dostum and Hekmatyar then turned again against Massoud and new fighting broke out in the Kabul and Khenj areas, during which the last air combats of this war happened. On 7 June 1995 a formation of DGMAF Su-22s bombed Khenj when they were intercepted by AAF MiG-21s, which shot down one Sukhoi.

Origins of the IEAAF

At this stage also the "Taliban Air Force" – a predecessor of the subsequent “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan Air Force” (IEAAF) emerged. This arm was initially created and run by the Pakistanis, and mainly consisted of aircraft and helicopters of the former DRAAF, frequently flown by Pakistani pilots but otherwise by some former DRAAF personnel. The IEAAF was swiftly to prove its worth and efficiency: during the first air combat involved its aircraft, on 14 June 1995, two MiG-21s shot down two AAF helicopters that were transporting ammunition to Massoud’s troops in the Samgan Province. The following engagement was concluded very swiftly: the IEAAF MiG-21s stumbled over a flight of Mi-17s and their pilots immediately requested permission to open fire from their GCI. One helicopter was shot down by gunfire, while the other crashed while attempting to avoid the MiGs. The next action of the IEAAF was not less spectacular: on 3 August 1995, its MiG-21s intercepted a Russian Il-76 which was underway with supplies for Massoud, and forced it to land at Qandahar.

There are still some uncertainties about where from some of the IEAAF’s equipment was acquired. Officially, most of its fighter-bombers were former DRAAF aircraft, mainly captured at Herat AB. However the DRAAF had not such a large number of MiG-21s stationed in southern Afghanistan when falling apart. Besides, as religious scholars the Taliban had no clue about flying MiG-21s - and even less so maintaining any kind of aircraft or helicopters, while early on there were only few former DRAAF-officers and enlisted ranks that worked with them. A logical conclusion is therefore that there can be only one true background of the Taliban Air Force: Pakistan. To which degree was the PAF involved in the process of founding the IEAAF, however, remains not entirely clear until today: it appears that initially the ISI worked out a deal with Dostum for his technicians to service MiG-21s captured at Kandahar AB, in exchange for money. It is known that these planes were duly brought to operational status. The Pakistanis also acquired spare parts for the IEAAF and were supplying fuel for its aircraft. Subsequently, former DRAAF pilots and maintenance crews, known to had been loyal to Gen. Tanai, were recruited to work with the IEAAF and keep its aircraft operational.

During the rest of spring and the whole summer 1995, the AAF and the DGM AF suffered one loss after the other, as their fighter-bombers were repeatedly shot down by Taliban MANPADs (mainly FIM-92A Stingers, but also some Pakistani-supplied Anzas). In October, finally, the Taleban captured Herat, and then approached Kabul. The IEAAF was very active at this time, but was also suffering considerable losses: on 16 October, for example Massoud fighters downed no less but three MiG-21s and a Mi-8 over Maydan Shah during a single action, using MANPADs. On 31 October also two IEAAF MiG-21s were shot down over Qandahar, and one over Kabul. Finally, on 12 November two IEAAF Mi-8s were shot down near Log: one of them carried the Mullah Omar, but he survived.

By the late 1995, Massoud - and also Ismail Khan - were reinforced by new arms deliveries from Russia and Iran, respectively. Several Russian and IRIAF Il-76s were registered while landing at Jalalabad and Baghram at the time. IRIAF transports were in mid-December 1995 seen even directly over Kabul, escorted by IRIAF F-14A interceptors). Having realized that he was left without the Pakistani support, and finding himself under a Taliban attack, Hekmatyar eventually decided to also join forces with Massoud. The Iranians then decided to supply arms and ammunition to this new coalition and their C-130s are known to have delivered at least 20 full loads of equipment and ammunition to Mazar-e-Sharif. One his troops were reinforced and replenished, Massoud managed to stop the first Taliban offensive against Kabul.

On 1 November 1995, the DGMAF attempted to destroy the IEAAF on the ground, but the operation failed completely: one Su-22 was shot down (pilot captured), and the others aborted the attack after seeing the fierce air defences around the Taliban airfields (foremost that near Qandahar). By the end of November, Massoud lost most of his remaining MiG-21s and Su-22s in combat or due to lack of spares, and from that moment on the IEAAF practically possessed the air superiority over Afghanistan. The air strikes flown by its Su-22s in the summer of 1996 weakened Massoud's defences so much that the Taliban finally broke into Kabul, and captured not only the city, but also the Baghram AB, where most of the last remaining - even if mainly in-operational – AAF MiG-21s and Su-22s were captured intact. This success came as a complete surprise, rising the logical question of how could the “Islamic scholars”, which never received any kind of proper military training organize themselves and fight so successfully against battle-hardened and highly experienced Mujaheddin. Even Massoud later admitted that the Taliban came so fast, that his troops haven't managed to destroy or even sabotage their aircraft parked in Baghram. The explanation was relatively simple, however: what actually happened was that with Saudi and Pakistani money the Taliban were able to pay Hekmatyar’s commanders to let them pass through their lines, opening a massive hole in Massoud’s defences, and eventually causing the whole frontline to collapse.

In their next operation, undertaken in January 1997, the Taliban attacked the DGM and destroyed it completely: most of the DGM troops fled into CIS countries in the north. During the spring of 1997 the NAF began feeling the Taliban pressure and the poor condition in which it was left, when a Mi-17-pilot defected with his helicopter to the Taliban. The crew subsequently reported that previously it was flying in supplies from Tajikistan to Massoud’s forces. Afterwards, the situation remained pretty same until late 1999: Massoud held some 10% of Afghanistan, and Rabbani's government was accepted as the official Afghani government, even if having no power actually. Their only success was the re-capture of the Baghram AB, in 1998, when Massoud used a moment at which the Pakistanis were not careful: the attack was successful, and again many MiG-21s and Su-22s were captured intact, even if none of them was ever made flyable again.

The days of this MiG-21bis eventually finished on the huge junkyard of Baghram AB, in November 2001. The aircraft was apparently serialled "396", over or under which an unknown serial was applied in white. The national marking on the fin is a kind of a mystery: it might be a washed out DRAAF-insignia, or a DRAAF-insignia roughly overpainted in green of the Taliban (see bellow for further explanations). If the later is truth, it is possible that this was one of IEAAF MiG-21s based at Baghram AB while airfield was held by the Taliban.

The Last Two Years

Due to the lack of coherent command & communications structure, especially regarding the use of heavier weapons, the Taliban could not go much further than they managed so far - especially not without more direct help from Pakistan. So, in 1998, Pakistani Government and Army - obviously growing inpatient by the Taliban inability to deliver the final defeat of what was now known as the "Northern Coalition" or "United Front" (unified command of mainly Tajik Afghan forces in north-eastern Afghanistan, under the command of Massoud) - intensified their support for Taliban.

This process reached unprecedented levels by late that year and throughout the 1999 and 2000. At the time, Pakistani help was "limited" to massive food supplies, fuel, ammunition, and spares supply. The amounts of these supplied by Pakistan varied through years, but enabled - for example - the IEAAF to mount up to 30 strike missions daily, or a total of up to 160 sorties per week in late 1998. The Pakistani help was also influential in creating the IEAAF as an "official" (Taliban) Air Force from what was before a rag-tag group of pilots and aircraft without any organized support, and enabling this service some particularly intensive transport operations, like in late 1998, when An-12s and An-26s flew dozens of troop-transport and supply missions into the north, in support of the offensive in which Taloqan was captured.

At the time shortly after its "official" creation, the IEAAF 1998 was a pretty powerful asset for its circumstances. It had over 30 intact MiG-21s alone. Yet, with the loss of the air base at Baghram, almost 70% of its assets were lost as well. During the retreat from Baghram, Taliban disabled or destroyed all aircraft they could not take with them (so many were in-operational at the time), and that's the reason for plenty of pictures taken at that airfield during the last two years, showing scores or broken and derelict planes lying around. During 1998 the IEAAF had stroke of good luck in that it was again reinforced by NCAF defectors, when a crew of five flew their An-12B to one of airfields held by the Taliban. The members of this crew subsequently reported to have previously flown supply missions from Iran to Massoud’s forces.

The IEAAF reached the peak of its effectiveness in the year 2000, during the Taliban offensive against Taloqan, when it flew no less but 160 combat missions within two weeks. Most of these missions were aimed at Taloqan itself, and NC/UF supply communications in the area. However, for the reasons which will be explained further below, it suffered a loss of at least eight MiG-21s and Su-22s, all shot down by SA-14 MANPADs. Not a single of the downed pilots was recovered (although, some ejected safely and were captured), which caused a significant problem for the IEAAF that became apparent already by the autumn 2000, when the force was hardly active at all due to the lack of pilots and ammunition (this was one of the factors for the Taliban offensive being stopped in Badakhshan, in September 2000). Especially the loss of General Allahdad, Commander of the Mazar-e-Sharif AB and one of IEAAF most distinguished pilots - whose MiG-21 was shot down on 6 August 2000, by an SA-14 over Taloqan - proved to be a heavy blow for the IEAAF.

Nevertheless, the NC/UF had to admit that the Taliban air and artillery support were far more accurate and tactically useful than ever before. Without surprise, reports surfaced about regular Pakistani soldiers manning Taliban artillery and Pakistan Army officers coordinating their fire with forward observers.

The military successes of the Pakistani special forces supported by the IEAAF and the al-Qaida in NW Afghanistan enabled the opening of another supply route - via Turkmenistan, foremost important for fuel imports. This route remained intact until the early days of November 2001, despite immense interdiction efforts of the USN fighters since 8 October 2001. Namely, Turkmenistan declared itself "neutral" in the US-lead Anti-Terror War even after the local government agreed to accept US forces on its soil.

By the early 1999, the Taliban military became completely dependent of the standing force of the al-Qaida's militant structures, as well as the PA and PAF. Even more so, the financial support from al-Qaida helped the Taliban also attract and keep foreign volunteers in Afghanistan. By most estimates, at the time the al-Qaida was receiving donations of up to $30 million dollars from wealthy donors in the Middle East each year, and most of this money was spent for fighting the war in Afghanistan. In addition, the Taliban financed themselves through production and smuggling of opium and also through donations of “interested” individuals and organizations.

However, since the begin of Taliban it was Pakistan that provided most of the aid and support for the Taliban. Right since their appearance most of the Taliban were actually Pakistani citizens. By 2001, between 5.000 and 7.000 Pakistani volunteers were members of the Taliban, or, better said, the al-Qaida network in Afghanistan, which at the time was said to have had between 8.000 and 12.000 combatants inside the country.

The situation of the Pakistanis in Afghanistan was, however, not that simple: their contingent was divided into three overlapping categories. The hard-core of the majority were young students from Pakistani madrassahs (religious seminaries) of the Deobandi School (which produced most Taliban), mobilized and moved into Afghanistan often without any kind of even rudimentary military training. This force would certainly never be able to deliver such defeats to Massoud, Dostum, and Hekmatyar as it did between 1994 and 1998: indeed, all the Taliban advances in that time caused massive losses to this force, to such degree, that by 2001 they actually ceased to be of any importance.

Then there was the next "class" of the Pakistanis, foremost those sent to Afghanistan by different religious organizations, like Harakat-ul-Mujahideen (formerly Haraka-ul-Ansar), the anti-Shi'ia Sipah-e Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and the smaller Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. These were mainly Pakistani militants, to large degree also former members of the Pakistani military, with good previous training and additional knowledge of ground operations.

The third "class" were PA, ISI, and PAF regulars. At earlier times, 1994 through 1998, these were mainly professional officers: they were tasked with planning and logistic roles. Some were retired officers, non-commissioned officers, and technicians of the PA and the PAF: they were mainly tasked to lead the less experienced troops of the first two "classes". By August and September 2000, however, also the first regular PA units - initially the special forces - were deployed, and they became influential in the capture of Taloqan. By the summer of 2001, the PA should have had elements of three regular commando battalions (the locals called them everything possible: between "regiment" and "division") operating in Afghanistan - of course under the guise of "Taliban".

In January 2001 the process of the mobilization of such assets was maximized, with intensive support from Pakistan now reaching levels through deployment of other regular PA units. On 10 January 2001, for example, a meeting was held in Akora Khattak, in Pakistan, between the leaders of Pakistan-based extremist groups, top-ranking officers of the Pakistani ISI (such as Gen. (Ret.) Hamid Gul, former Chief of the military intelligence services) and Gen. Aslam Beg of the PA, which advocated maximized military support of Pakistan to the Taliban/al-Qaida coalition, and defying the UN sanctions against the Taliban. Interestingly, the meeting, at which representants of as many as 30 militant and military groups attended (all protected by hundreds of heavily armed guards of their own), was held in a broad daylight despite the martial law by the military Government of Pakistan; obviously, the whole affair was orchestrated by the Pakistani Government.

One of the consequences of this meeting was an intensification of Pakistani support and deployment of new PA units into the northern Afghanistan. In a sweeping move, preceding the deadline of the imposition of new UN sanctions against the Taliban and foreign "volunteers" (actually mercenaries) in Afghanistan, from 12 January onward, a number of new commando and artillery units of the Pakistani Army, partially manned by Pakistani volunteers (not regular PA personnel), in total some 1.500 Pakistani nationals, was deployed in northern Afghanistan in preparation for foreseeable attacks on the government forces.

According to contemporary reports, PA General Qamar-u-Zaman was assigned as the new officer in charge of military operations in Afghanistan, replacing PA General of the Army Saeed Zafar, who functioned in the same capacity in Afghanistan over the past year. Furthermore, additional new commanders arrived, including the PA General Tariq Bashir, formerly commander of the 9th Division of the PA; Brig. Momin and Col. Sanaullah from PA's Kohat Division; Col. Hamza of the Pakistan's ISI (military intelligence service); whole "998 Brigade" was replaced by the 996 Brigade (CO Brig. Amjad of Sayawali; the unit was a part of what was called "Charat Commando Division" by the Afghanis), and being placed in reserve; the 117 Brigade was replaced by the 994 Brigade (CO Brig. Faizan Khan of Laki Maroot, Pakistan); and the 625 Artillery Battalion (CO ? Rafique, active PA officer).

In addition, PA Brig. Amjad was assigned the CO of Pakistani forces in the Takhar Province, where during the summer PA units, and units of Pakistani volunteers were equipped with additional equipment to establish capability to cross the Kokcha River. These reinforcements, however, have not managed to build up a strength needed for the expected "final offensive" against NC/UF forces in NE Pakistan, as during the relatively mild winter 2000/2001, the MC/UF forces under command of Ahmad-Shah Massoud have not only managed to stop several fierce attacks by Pakistani/Taliban/al-Qaida forces, but also to spoil their preparations by engaging Taliban forces on several places, and forcing the Pakistanis to react, practically placing them at a defensive, instead of enabling them to act, and start their own offensive. The fighting was focused on two areas: starting an offensive in the western Afghanistan, the NC captured several cities and villages in the strategic Yakolan District, in late December 2000 and early January 2001. On 3rd January, Taliban counterattacked around Kunduz (150km north of Kabul), trying to push NC forces away from the city and cut their main supply route into Tajikistan. Additional Taliban - actually Pakistani units - supported by air strikes and artillery - were then rushed from Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, towards Bamiyan, at best helping to stabilize the front.

It is highly likely, that some of the Arab "Jihadis" (of which there were between 2.000 and 4.000 with the al-Qaida/Taliban) - foremost the Egyptians - and some of almost 2.000 Chechens have had some sort of experience with the aircraft, and have helped the IEAAF as well.

Now, by 2001, the IEAAF had 21 MiG-21s (of which 8 operational and 13 non-operational and mostly used for spare parts); 17 Su-20/22 airframes (8 operational and 9 non-operational and mostly used for spare parts, plus one example - the "white 82" - exhibited at the entrance to Kabul International)); and five L-39 airframes (of which two intact but not operational and three in derelict condition).

The IEAAF possessed also four Mi-24 or Mi-35 helicopters, and eleven operational Mi-8s (the number of derelict or non-operational airframes was unknown). A large fleet of military transports was available, even if these were mainly officially operated by the Afghan „Ariana" Airlines. All these aircraft were very active throughout the whole year (especially in winter, when most roads are useless due to snow) and were in reasonably good condition.

Here is the list of transport aircraft at the times available to IEAAF, Ariana, and Tyumenaviatrans. First column gives the operator of the aircraft, the second is the aircraft’s identity (registration or serial), then the construction number, and the last is the model of the aircraft.

Owner Registration/Serial c/n Model
Afghan Air Force 229 SFG1008 An-26
Afghan Air Force 230 SFG1009 An-26
Afghan Air Force 231 SFG1010 An-26
Afghan Air Force 232 SFG1011 An-26
Afghan Air Force 233 SFG1012 An-26
Afghan Air Force 234 SFG1013 An-26
Afghan Air Force 235 SFG1014 An-26
Afghan Air Force 236 SFG1015 An-26
Afghan Air Force 237 SFG1016 An-26
Afghan Air Force 238 SFG1017 An-26
Afghan Air Force 239 SFG1018 An-26
Afghan Air Force 240 SFG1019 An-26
Afghan Air Force 241 SFG1020 An-26
Afghan Air Force 242 SFG1021 An-26
Afghan Air Force 243 SFG1022 An-26
Afghan Air Force 244 SFG1023 An-26
Afghan Air Force 245 SFG1024 An-26
Afghan Air Force 246 SFG1025 An-26
Afghan Air Force 247 SFG1026 An-26
Afghan Air Force 252 SFG1027 An-26
Afghan Air Force 268 SFG1028 An-26
Afghan Air Force 284 AN32021 An-32
Afghan Air Force 301 AN32053 An-32
Afghan Air Force 302 AN32054 An-32
Afghan Air Force 303 AN32055 An-32
Afghan Air Force 304 AN32056 An-32
Afghan Air Force 305 AN32057 An-32
Afghan Air Force 306 AN32058 An-32
Afghan Air Force 307 AN32022 An-32
Afghan Air Force 308 AN32023 An-32
Afghan Air Force 346 AN32059 An-32
Afghan Air Force 353 AN32024 An-32
Afghan Air Force 363 AN32060 An-32
Afghan Air Force 381 AN12235 An-12
Afghan Air Force 382 AN12236 An-12
Afghan Air Force 384 AN12237 An-12
Afghan Air Force 387 4342205 An-12
Afghan Air Force 388 AN12238 An-12
Afghan Air Force 390 AN12239 An-12
Afghan Air Force T-001 87010105 Il-18
Afghan Air Force T-004 SFG1007 An-26
Afghan Air Force T-005 SFG1006 An-24

Remark: some An-12 transports are equipped with Soviet-designed bomb racks that could carry up to 38 250-kilogram bombs.

Ariana Afghan AL CCCP-87255 Yak-40
Ariana Afghan AL YA-BAG 7306602 An-24
Ariana Afghan AL YA-BAH 17306709 An-24
Ariana Afghan AL YA-BAL 14105 An-26
Ariana Afghan AL YA-BAN 14304 An-26
Ariana Afghan AL YA-BAO 14305 An-26
Unconfirmed CIS YA-DAA AN12353 An-12
Polet Russian AC YA-DAB 5342801 An-12
Ariana Afghan AL YA-DAG 87304504 An-24
Ariana Afghan AL YA-DAM 104-04 An-24
Ariana Afghan AL YA-FAU 20343 Boeing727
Ariana Afghan AL YA-FAW 19619 Boeing727
Ariana Afghan AL YA-GAX 331 DHC6
Ariana Afghan AL EP-CPG 748 Tu-154
Ariana Afghan AL YA-DAF An-24
Ariana Afghan AL YA-DAJ 47309603 An-24
Ariana Afghan AL YA-FAY 22289 Boeing727
Tyumenaviatrans YA-87486 9441438 Yak-40

The cadre of IEAAF pilots at the time to 50% consisted of former DRAAF officers, while the other 50% were "volunteers" and "instructors" from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, some of them highly experienced. In total, however, the CO of the IEAAF, Gen. Yousaf Shah (which earlier served as MiG-21 and Su-22 in the DRAAF, and then the DGM AF, before defecting to Taliban in 1996; his vice was Gen. Jamil, former An-26-pilot, which also served in the DRAAF and the DGM AF before defecting to Taliban in 1998) haven't had more than 700 people working in his service. Main bases of the IEAAF were Kabul, Jalalabad, Shindand, and Qandahar.

During 1998 and 1999, the performance of the IEAAF operations varied considerably, and it is probably this that created the "feeling" on the side of the UF/NC that the PAF was flying combat operations against them. Usually, the original IEAAF pilots were heavily dependent on the GCI system - even for the simplest air-to-ground missions, most of which were flown at levels between 1.000 and 4.000m. Despite severe destruction and losses, the Afghan GCI system remained roughly intact and was capable of guiding and supporting fast jet fighters in the area of Mazar-e-Sharif, Taloqan, and Kabul. Taliban pilots were known to be heavily reliant on the GCI from the monitoring of their communications, but in 1999 and 2000 this changed: suddenly, the pilots appeared which need not as much GCI-support. Some of these pilots had very good situational awareness, and their attacks were exceptionally precise. In some cases it was noticed, that some targets were hit by such pilots first, followed by the less experienced ones, which would try to hit the same place, marked by the smoke and dust from the earlier attacks. Most of IEAAF air strikes were flown in order to disrupt the NC/UF supply chain and weaken the resolve of its fighters to continue fighting. The lack of proper communications between the Taliban forces on the ground and the IEAAF aircraft prevented the later from flying effective close-air support sorties. Nevertheless, such missions were undertaken as well: the Taliban (or, better said: their foreign instructors) pressed also a number of Aero L-39 trainers in combat service as light strikers, fitting them with bombs and rockets for attacking NC/UF lines.

IEAAF in 2001

The year 2001, the IEAAF begun with eight operational Su-22s, eight MiG-21s, two intact and two in-operational L-39s, a total of eleven Mi-8s and at least a single Mi-17 helicopters. By the time, there were still around 700 people working in the IEAAF, which operated from airfields at Kabul (very seldom: the field is foremost used for civilian and transport flights), Jalalabad, Shindand and Qandahar, although there should also be at least three or four additional - lets call them so - "dispersal" sites as well.

Above and bellow: seen on an unknown airfield in Afghanistan, in late 1990s, these two aircraft are believed to have been operated by the IEAAF - i.e. the "Taliban Air Force". The MiG-21bis had obviously sploches of fresh brown colour added to the old camouflage but was too far away for identification of the serial - which might have been applied in white (or in red over the old serial that was applied in white). The meaning of the green roundel on the fin remains unknown: this could have been the insignia of Taliban, but they are only known to have otherwise used white flags with different inscriptions. No national markings were noticed on the upper side of the wings.

The Su-20M seen on the same photograph had its cockpit and forward fuselage covered by tarpaulin. Otherwise the camouflage was apparently very fresh - for Afghan circumstances in the 1990s - except on upper sides of the wings, which had only a small sploch of green on the end. Sadly, no serial or national marking was recognizible.

United Front/Northern Alliance/Northern Coalition

Slightly more is known about the forces of what was meanwhile called the "United Front" (formerly so-called "Northern Coalition" aka "Northern Alliance"). The leader of the UF was still Ahmad-Shah Massoud (sometimes spelled also as "Ahmadshah"), with the HQ is at Khwaja Bahauddin, near the border with Tajikistan. The core of the UF (which had somewhere between 12.000 and 15.000 fighters) consisted of an ethnic Uzbek militia under Abdul Rashid Dostum (now active again in northern Afghanistan). This was allied with a Hazara Force (Shi’ia under Karim Khalili and Mohaqeq active in Bamian and Yakaolang Provinces); Pushtunis under Haji Abdul Qadir (Kunar and Nangrahar Provinces), and two other, minor fractions under Ismail Khan (Ghor and Herat Provinces) and Atta Mohammad (in Darrah-e-Suf valley), respectively.

There was actually no "air force" of the UF, but rather a group of former DRAAF pilots and technicians, which were using two Mi-8s (black "555" and white "607"), originally taken over by Massoud's forces from the DRAAF in 1992, and five "second-hand" Mi-17s (including black "451"), purchased from Tajikistan in winter 2000/2001. Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters were instrumental for UF operations, as a good deal of the logistics system of that organization is completely dependable on them. In the area controlled by the UF, namely, there were hardly any roads, and those still intact were either in range of the enemy artillery or sensitive to enemy air operations.

The UF also still had the two Mi-35s (black "89" and "101"), which were not much flown, partially due to the lack of spares but also because of the lack of fuel and ammo. Their pilots, Capt. Abdul Nai and Capt. Muh Amin, were meanwhile highly experienced, however, and their operations against the Taliban in the Badakhshan, in September 2000, were also highly influential in stopping that offensive. During the same offensive, the UF suffered one of its heaviest losses, when its sole An-12B was captured by Taliban at Khwaja Gar. Since then, it seems that Iran has supplied three An-32s to the Hizb-I-Wahdat Shi'as (Islamic Unity Party), which supported the UF against Taliban. These aircraft were reported to be frequently found at the tarmac in Dushanbe (Tajikistan), and should have been maintained and flown by Uzbek pilots.

The UF controlled the airfield at Baghram, where over 40 derelict airframes could be found (most of them MiG-21s, but also a number of Su-22s, Il-28s, An-12s and even two Mi-24As).

In 1988 two DRAAF pilots - Capt. Abdul Nai and Capt. Muh Amin - defected to the side of Jamiat-e-Islami, flying their Mi-35s into Massoud's hands. These two helicopters, "Black 89" and "Black 105", were last seen in intact - but non-flyable - condition in the early 2001, and "Black 89" again - albeit with green fields crudely oversprayed with dark green colour - also later that year, already after the US-led intervention in Afghanistan. To which extent were they used in fighting against the Dostum-Golboddin Militia or the Taliban forces remains unclear.

Foreign Interventions in 2001

Different non-Afghan powers remained highly influential in Afghanistan. Most important of them were Pakistan, USA, Tajikistan, and Iran.

Pakistan created Taliban and was helping planning and organizing most of Taliban operations. Islamabad has to a very high degree of influence on Taliban decision-making, and was also responsible for spares, ammo and supplies. In addition, there were several reports about the PAF being active over Afghanistan, with its A-5Cs of the 16th and 26th Sqns having flown numerous bombing missions against NC/NA/UF positions in early 2001. The ISI continued to coordinate the Taliban operations and supply them with spare parts, fuel and food, as well as to finance the maintenance of their heavy equipment.

The USA, which were not cooperating with Pakistan any more, were all the time negotiating with the Taliban regime, trying to bribe them with $ millions of annual "help" in order to ascertain rights to build an oil-pipeline from the Caspian Sea over Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan to Pakistan, in order to surpass Iran. In an unbelievable irony, the US administration was thus ignoring the significance for the influence of the al-Qaida structure present in Afghanistan for the stability and survival of the Afghan regime: bearing in mind what happened on 11 September 2001, no cooperation with Taliban - and thus, indirectly, al-Qaida - against Iran seems logical today. The US State Department had no effective policy regarding Afghanistan: it wanted Bin Laden, but was not ready to support the Northern Alliance by any means. The CIA, on the other hand, was already active, supplying some aid to Massoud and requesting him to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden already since the late 1990s. In fact, the CIA purchased and deployed in Afghanistan at least three Mi-17 helicopters. These were used for transportation of supplies as well as own agents around the country already since the late 2000. By 2001 there were even reports about the US administration considering the possibility of supplying FIM-92A Stinger MANPADS to NC/UF forces – but any such plans, if they were ever existent, were never realized.

Tajikistan was actually the main basis of the anti-Taliban forces and one of the reasons the Taliban eventually did not manage to conquer the whole Afghanistan. In Tajikistan a Russian Federation's contingent of 25.000 troops was stationed (concentrated around the 201st Motor-Rifle Division of the Afghan War fame), together with 12 of Su-25BM/UMs (186 IShAP, stationed at Kokayty), Mi-8s, Mi-24s (11 OVP?) and transport aircraft. Additionally, An-12 transports, Mi-8s of the 535 Wing (based at Rostow na Donu), and Mi-8PPA/Mi-8SMVs of the 286 OVP (usually based at Zernograd) were noticed several times at Dushanbe as well. Russian aircraft have flown a number of combat missions over Afghanistan between 1992 and 1995, and there are continuous rumours about them continuing to do so time and again during the late 1990s.

Otherwise, Russians were - together with Iranians - the main suppliers of ammunition and spare parts for the NC/UF forces. There were repeated reports about operations of IRIAF RF-4Es over Afghanistan, and transport missions of IRIAF Il-76s - escorted by F-14As - for the UF. In 1998 the IRIAF also established the new "Tactical Fighter Base" (TFB) 14 at Mashhad, where the 140th TFW, equipped with 24 ex-Iraqi Dassault Mirage F.1EQ/BQs was stationed. Iran also employed EMB-312 Tucano propeller trainers, Bell AH-1J Cobra attack-helicopters, and own UAVs to deal with these drug smugglers. It was claimed for this unit ´to have flown dozens of missions against different Taliban positions and drug-smuggler bands’, and it is also known that at least one IRIAF Mirage F.1BQ fighter-bomber was shot down by Afghan MANPADs during some operations along the Afghan border, in the summer of 2001.

IRIAF Mirage F.1EQ as seen at Mashhad, in late summer 1998. According to official Iraqi reports a total of 24 Mirage F.1EQ-2/EQ-4/EQ-5/EQ-6 and BQ (the last are two-seaters) were "evacuated" to Iran in 1991. The type is meanwhile known to have entered service in Iran with some Pakistani support in 1993, but the Iranians never officially acknowledged its existence. Most recent reports indicate that the 140th TFW, based at TFB.14, Mashahd, was operating at least 18 Mirage F.1EQ/BQs as of late 2004.

In addition to all the mentioned parties also Uzbekistan became involved. The aircraft of the Uzbekistan Air Force have flown a number of missions against Taliban: on 6 June 2001, for example, an UzAF Su-24 was shot down while attacking Taliban armoured infantry unit near Heiratan. The crew of the plane was killed, together with a number of Taliban they bombed. Tajik AF helicopters are also known to have been very active in flying supplies to the UF.

Last, but not least, Pakistani sources say that Indians were involved in the war on the UF side as well. What could be confirmed at the time was that the Indian-manned military field-hospital was established near Parkhar, in Tajikistan, for which was known to be one of UF bases too. In that sense, it can be said, that Indians are eventually supplying medicine to UF and taking care of its injured, but it was never confirmed that Indians were actively training UF troops or supplying them with ammunition.


Sources & Bibliography

Special thanks to Mr. Tom N., Troung, Marc Koelich, and "Starsign" for sharing precious information from their files and their help in completition of this article.

Except for research of our correspondents and ours - largely conducted with help of immigrants and refugees from Afghanistan living in Europe - following sources were used as reference for this feature:

- "Afghanistan: The Bear Trap; The Defeat of a Superpower", by Mohammad Yousaf & Mark Adkin, Casemate, 1992 & 2001, ISBN: 0-9711709-2-4

- "Wings over the Panjshir Valley", by Ives Debay and David Donald, World Air Power Journal Volume 40, Spring 2000, ISBN: 1-86284-043-8

- Different Issues of Österreichische Militärische Zeitschrift (ÖMZ), volumes 1995, 1996, 1997, and 2001.

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