The annual contribution of the EPAF (European Participating Air Forces) detachment at Manas International Airport in Kyrgyzstan will soon draw to a close. What began on 1 October 2002 will end in a slimmed-down form exactly one year later. In this period the EPAF detachment has contributed substantially to the operation “Enduring Freedom”. This detachment alone flew over 11,500 flying hours. The large number of flying hours, however, necessitated a regular rotation of Falcons of The Netherlands as well as Denmark to prevent the aircraft present from flying too many hours.
Chronology: - (direct) cause and decision-making
The cause of these operations were the events on September 11 2001. Consequently the Dutch government offered to supply six F-16s, which would operate particularly in a reconnaissance role.
On 5 December the Dutch government received the actual request from Washington to supply the aircraft. The setting of their task was soon changed from a reconnaissance to a close-air-support role. Thus the F16s could support the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). At the outset the aim was to have the EPAF detachment operational at the end of January 2002 and later at the end of June 2002. Mainly because of practical and political reasons the detachment could not be deployed from Manas Airbase before 1 October 2002. Lieutenant Colonel Jack “Goose” Goense, commander of EPAF, stated that crews and personnel had been well informed in advance about the present threat and prepared for the worst. Fortunately this threat turned out to be not as serious as anticipated. Especially for non-flying personnel there was a very relaxed work atmosphere.
The international airport of Kyrgyzstan at Manas has been used for the operations over Afghanistan. This airport, which still has a civil role, was thoroughly renovated by the Americans though even now improvements are still being carried out. Several new platforms are under construction mainly with the help of the local population. Even building the accommodation for 1.600 detached military personnel was an option, but the Americans soon abandoned this plan. At this moment they are lodged in tents in a large and heavily guarded camp just outside the base. The cooperation with the authorities has according to Lieutenant Colonel Jack “Goose” Goense, commander of the EPAF and the RNLAF detachment, so far been very friendly though business like.
The EPAF detachment is not the only user of Manas airport. It is used by the USA to station KC-135s and C-130s and also by other countries to operate from.
One of the other countries which operated from Manas was the Italian Air Force with new C-130J.
EPAF frequently avails itself of KC-135s for the air-to-air refuelling over Afghanistan.
The C-130 is used for strategic troop transport. Manas is for the Americans one of the strategic bases of operation, where troops from or to Afghanistan stop off. All these activities are profitable for the Kirghiz. Each landing costs namely $ 7.000. In addition the Americans pay a substantial rent for the base, for food, transport and lodging. Revenues the Kyrgyzstan government can use very well.
Fighter cover, as Lieutenant Colonel Jack “Goose” Goense emphasised, was a necessity since it had never been completely quiet in Afghanistan. Assistance was regularly given from Manas and F-16s used GBU12 and 20 mm guns at identified positions of Al Qaeda and Taliban. Most of these missions were carried out in eastern and southern Afghanistan. The standard arms configuration consisted of two AMRAAM, two GBU12, two drop tanks, a 20mm gun and a targeting pod.
Manas airbase was at one-and-a half hours flying from Kabul and since an average “close air support” mission would take some six hours, this kind of mission implied a new aspect for EPAF pilots and ground crews. They had to work shifts, because there had to be a 24-hour fighter cover over Afghanistan.
Before two F-16s, sometimes even more, took off from Manas clearance had to be given by the American Headquarters at Bagram in Afghanistan, so that they would arrive exactly on time to relieve the fighter planes present there. A first refuelling took place as soon as the planes reached the Afghan airspace and then the so-called on-station time began. They patrolled at medium altitude for some two to three hours before being relieved. Refuelling during
on-station time took place as often as necessary. Immediately after the relief the F-16s were refuelled a last time before returning to base.
A mission was supposed to last no longer than six hours, because otherwise fatigue would involve to many risks for the pilots.
Fully armed this Dutch F-16 is about to begin its mission over Afghanistan.
The withdrawal of the EPAF detachment was activated on 1 October 2003. The remaining Dutch and Danish F-16s have returned to their home bases and so have their personnel.