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  • Writer's pictureFrank Visser

2006 EPAF F-16s in Afghanistan

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

Recognising the importance of Dutch units in Afghanistan, the Dutch government agreed to another deployment in the winter of 2005. This detachment, consisting of four F-16AMs and around 100 personnel, was to be at the disposal of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) for one year and would operate from Kabul International Airport. Frank Visser visited the detachment at Kabul for the second time to report on the Norwegian participation within the EPAF Expeditionary Air Wing.

The detachment departed from Volkel on 23 March 2005 and arrived at Kabul five days later. A first mission was flown on 1 April. The principal tasks were air support and air presence for ISAF and the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, 24-hour Quick Reaction Alert, Combat Air Support with forward air controllers, and support of the Afghan National Army and national/ allied troops. This deployment, designated as an EPAF Expeditionary Air Wing (EEAW), comprised eight F-16AMs, four Dutch and four Belgian, equipped to M2 standard. As at Manas each country flew its missions separately to prevent potential communication misunderstandings.

All four RNLAF F-16AMs in one shot.

The entire detachment consisted of some 170 military personnel, of whom just over 100 were Dutch ground staff from Volkel and later from Leeuwarden. Dutch pilots were provided by all of the F-16 squadrons and completed a five-week duty rotation. The Belgian contingent, numbering some 60 personnel, included ground crew and pilots from Kleine Brogel and Florennes. Kabul International Airport was considered to be of great strategic importance. From there the F-16s of the 1 NLD/BEL EEAW F-16 Det ISAF could cover the whole of Afghanistan's airspace.

Fully armed this RNLAF F-16AM taxies out towards the runway at Kabul International Airport.

The Belgian F-16s had left Kabul by 15 January 2006, to be replaced by four Norwegian examples

on 15 February 2006. The resultant deployment would only last for three months and was designated as 1 NLD/NOR EEAW F-16 Det ISAF. RNLAF commander in charge of the detachment was Lt Col Jos Leenders. During all of the deployments requests were made regularly for the F-16s and for the use of their weapons, but, after the departure of the Belgian contingent and before the Norwegians arrived, the Dutch would be put seriously to the test. Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed led to considerable unrest in Muslim countries and consequently also in Afghanistan.

Line-up at Kabul International Airport. In front two Norwegian F-16s in preparation for another ISAF CAS mission.

With full afterburner this Dutch F-16AM takes off from Kabul International Airport.

On 7 February 2006 demonstrators concentrated at the Norwegian PRT base in Maymana in north-west Afghanistan. The demonstration quickly escalated and the Norwegian soldiers felt so threatened that they asked for air support. Four Dutch F-16s and a C-130H from the Kabul detachment were put into action to support the PRT. A 'show of force' demonstration seemed effective, but tensions gradually increased again, and the ISAF commander gave permission to fire warning shots outside built-up areas. This action and an intervention by the Afghan National Police (ANP) led to a de-escalation of the demonstration. Nevertheless, the F-16s came close to actually dropping GBU-12 laser-guided bombs. Aircraft remained airborne for 26 hours during the incident, refuelling taking place by 'hotpitting' at Kabul International Airport: the jets were refuelled immediately after landing with the engine running so that they could be airborne again as quickly as possible.

Early morning for this RNLAF C-130H of 334 Squadron at Kabul International Airport. This particular aircraft was used during the incident at the Norwegian PRT base in Maymana.

After the departure of the Norwegian F-16s on 12 May 2006, four additional RNLAF F-16s were flown over to maintain the strength of the detachment. This was also a necessity for the formation of

a Dutch PRT in Tarin Kowt, in the province of Uruzgan.

An Norwegian F-16AM of the 332 Skvadron returning to Kabul from another mission.

Another Norwegian F-16AM with 331 Skvadron markings.

On the morning of 31 August 2006 an F-16 pilot from the detachment lost his life. Flying at high altitude over an inhospitable area within Ghazni Province, he got into trouble and could not eject.

The cause of the crash was never determined, although a loss to enemy fire was ruled out.

A Dutch F-16 pilot during his preparation for a night flight. The 1 NLD/NOR EEAW F-16 Det ISAF operated day and night. Besides regular CAS-missions two aircraft were always on Quick Reaction Alert.

During all missions flown by the EPAF detachment, the aircraft were armed with two 500lb GBU-12 laser guided bombs, two AUM-9L Sidewinder missiles and the 20mm Vulcan cannon. To increase the range all aircraft were equipped with two underwing tanks. The Dutch F-16s were equipped with an AN/AAQ-14 Enhanced LANTIRN targeting pod and the Norwegian F-16s used the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper advanced targeting pod.

A Dutch F-16AM returning to Kabul seen deploying its brake chute.

As the focus of ISAF operations moved to southern Afghanistan, and with the Netherlands now maintaining a PRT in Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan Province, it became evident that RNLAF F-16s would have to move to Kandahar Airfield. Reaction times could thus be reduced considerably. During the weekend of 11-12 November 2006 the Dutch F-16s were flown from Kabul to their new base and Col Erik van Heumen took over as commander of 1 (NL) Air Task Force ISAF. All the Dutch flying units in Afghanistan came under his command. The size of the F-16 detachment remained at about 120 personnel and the armament of the aircraft was identical to that employed during the period at Kabul.

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