Afghanistan (Operation HERRICK)
The Royal Air Force's involvement in Afghanistan dates back to October 2001 when RAF aircraft provided reconnaissance and air-to-air refuelling capabilities in support of US strike aircraft on Operation Enduring Freedom. In December 2001 the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which aimed to assist the Afghan Transitional Authority in creating and maintaining a safe and secure environment in Kabul and its surrounding area, was created; it now comprises 37 nations. In 2003 NATO assumed command of ISAF; Stage One and Two of ISAF expansion saw ISAF move into the North and West of Afghanistan. Stage Three of ISAF expansion, which came into effect on 31 July 2006 saw ISAF move into Southern Afghanistan. It is here that the RAF is providing major support in order to aid ISAF in its mission of facilitating reconstruction and the extension of government authority. This support comes in a number of different forms and comprises about 850 RAF personnel: tactical reconnaissance and close air support is provided by Tornado GR4 Force; in-theatre airlift is provided by the RAF C130s and supplemented by Comms Fleet aircraft, including the HS125 and BAe 146; air refuelling support for Coalition aircraft is provided by the VC10, while the Sentinel R1 and MQ-9 Reaper play a large part in delivering ISTAR support. RAF Chinook and Merlin Helicopters form part of the Joint Helicopter Force in Afghanistan and are the backbone for the provision of tactical mobility for Land forces. As in Iraq, essential support is given by the RAF Strategic Air Transport fleet with the Tristar and C17 moving essential men and material into and out of the region.
Key to any successful operation is the support from non-flying units and enablers. In Afghanistan the RAF Regiment and RAF Police provide Force Protection around Kandahar airfield. Vital support also comes from a variety of other ground trades both deployed to Afghanistan and spread around the Gulf region. These deployed trades include aircraft, weapons and ground engineering, administration, communications, supply, medical, intelligence, bomb disposal, airfield maintenance, air traffic, air movements, meteorological and transportation personnel.