Afghanistan’s premier Special Operations Aviation unit is slotted to receive an unspecified number of CH-47 Chinooks from the U.S.
Established in 2005, the Special Mission Wing (SMW) is the cream of the crop of the AAF. With less than 1,000 pilots and ground personnel in its ranks, the unit was initially designed to support counter-narcotics operations. It quickly proved itself as a reliable and effective unit. As a consequence, its mission set increased to include counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations. The SMW, which can also operate in the night, is the main aviation support for the Afghan Special Security Forces (ASSF), but it also supports conventional Afghan units.
The main workhorse of the SMW is the Russian Mi-17. But now, the unit is set to improve its arsenal and capabilities by adding the heavy-lift Chinook. Although the Pentagon hasn’t specified which version of the Chinook the Afghans will be getting, it is not unreasonable to assume that the SMW will be receiving the MH-47, which is the Special Operations variant of the Chinook.
This is just one of the initiatives aimed at modernizing the Afghan Air Force (AAF). Last year, the Department of Defence (DoD) was greenlighted to provide 159 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to the AAF. A report, however, had questioned the merit behind the donation of the Blackhawks. In a study, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) had found that the AAF could put the UH-60s in little use given its chronic shortage of pilots and ground support personnel. As a consequence, the AAF will be receiving only one-third (53 helicopters) of the initial number.