Image: Afghan Army Air Corps helicopter
Omar Sobhani  /  Reuters file
An Afghan Army Air Corps helicopter carrying President Hamid Karzai lands in the Kaihan valley of Baghlan province for a campaign gathering on Aug. 1.
updated 8/12/2009 7:43:07 PM ET 2009-08-12T23:43:07

After years of recruiting and training, Afghan airmen are getting ready to fight.

Newly equipped with Russian-made attack helicopters, a relic of their war-tattered past, the Afghan Army Air Corps soon will start using force in their missions, U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Walter Givhan said Wednesday.

Officials called it a a significant step for a unit that grew from nothing just a few years ago.

"This has been part of a very deliberate training regimen that we have created for them," Givhan told reporters at the Pentagon during a half-hour videoconference from Kabul, the Afghan capital. "We've taken them through an entire syllabus to include training on rules of engagement and when they can shoot and when they can't shoot to get them ready for this."

Givhan added: "The roles that they initially take on will not be full-fledged close air support-type roles, but will be a little bit simpler."

That will include missions like fighter escorts and shooting in self-defense as the Afghan pilots continue to train for full attack operations, Givhan said. He gave no timeline of when that would happen.

The Afghan pilots also will abide by rules put in place this year that restrict U.S. troops from launching air attacks without first taking specific action to minimize civilian casualties. Those rules were enacted by Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, after deadly airstrikes in Farah province in May that killed at least dozens.

There currently are 2,700 airmen in the Afghan corps. Givhan said it is hoped that number will grow to 7,250 by 2016.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Meeting the resistance in Afghanistan

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