Friday 4 November 2022

Far From Finished: The Islamic Emirate Air Force

By Stijn Mitzer, Lukas Müller and Joost Oliemans
For an article on the development of the Islamic Emirate Air Force click here.
The Islamic Emirate Air Force (IEAF) has surprised friend and foe alike by not only continuing to exist as a functional air force, but also by continuously expanding its operational inventory of aircraft through overhauling both damaged and decommissioned aircraft. Though still only a fraction of the size of the Coalition-supported Afghan Air Force, the IEAF's operational inventory meanwhile includes more than a dozen attack helicopters, more than twenty transport helicopters and half a dozen transport aircraft. While the Taliban was expected by many to be unable to operate its UH-60A+ Black Hawks for more than a few months, at least six Black Hawks currently continue to see service as well.
In its attempts to re-establish a fixed-wing transport force, the IEAF has fallen back on a number of Soviet-era aircraft decommissioned by the previous Afghan Air Force after their replacement by Western types. This currently concerns three An-32Bs and one An-26, but these are expected to be joined by other examples in the future. These Antonovs operate alongside at least four (A)C-208s inherited from the former Afghan Air Force. The IEAF has also attempted to restart operations with the four C-130Hs it inherited (which suffered only minor damage), with one aircraft performing a successful engine run in June 2022. [1] Further progress appears to be hampered by a lack of qualified pilots.

This issue appears not only to be confined to the IEAF's C-130Hs. Indeed, while Taliban forces captured two A-29 light attack aircraft intact at Mazar-e Sharif air base, all the pilots qualified to fly the type appear to have fled the country or are currently in hiding. The Taliban has pleaded for their return on several occasions (along with the aircraft they escaped the country with), in the hopes that they would join those personnel that stayed behind and already joined the ranks of the IEAF. [2] In the meantime, the IEAF has fallen back on four restored Mi-35s and at least ten MD 530F attack helicopters to form the armed component of its force. Additional aircraft of different types might similarly be operational but not flown due to a lack of qualified pilots.
The future composition of the IEAF will thus not only depend on the number of aircraft the IEAF is able to restore and keep operational, but also on the number of pilots it manages to recruit or train to fly these types. The IEAF currently possesses no trainer aircraft or a dedicated ability to convert pilots to new types such as the A-29 and C-130. Still, it is not unthinkable that the IEAF will attempt to do so in the future, perhaps by recruiting instructors from abroad. Whatever the eventual result of its endeavours, military and civilian aviation in Afghanistan is far from finished, with Ariana Afghan Airlines even seeking to purchase A330-200 long-range passenger and cargo aircraft. [3]

A row of UH-60A+ Black Hawks that were sabotaged by U.S. forces shortly before they left Aghanistan.

While U.S. forces damaged the avionics of a great number of aircraft at Kabul, airport equipment and maintenance facilities fell into the hands of Taliban forces largely unscathed. The IEAF currently makes use of Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif and Kandahar as main operating bases (MOBs), with frequent forward deployments to smaller airports located throughout the mountainous country. As the IEAF mostly operates helicopters and rugged transport aircraft that need little servicing between flights, it can easily operate from unprepared airstrips. In case the IEAF manages to resume operations with the C-130 and A-29, the necessary infrastructure for their operations remains intact.

U.S. HEMTT A4 aircraft refuelers left at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan

This list aims to comprehensively catalogue the operational inventory of the Islamic Emirate Air Force (IEAF). This list only includes aircraft and helicopters that are visually confirmed to be in operational service. Aircraft that are currently under repair, stored awaiting future repairs or types grounded due to a lack of qualified pilots (i.e. A-29s) are thus not included in this list until evidence comes out that they are in operational service. These statistics are constantly updated as additional operational aircraft or losses are uncovered.
(Click on the equipment to get a picture of them in Afghan service)

Aircraft In Operational Service With The IEAF


Transport And Utility Aircraft (10)


Attack Helicopters (16)


Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

  • Unknown Number Of Boeing Insitu ScanEagle 2s: (~)
  • Missing flag.png Commercially Available VTOL UAVs Used For Reconnaissance 
  • Missing flag.png Commercially Available VTOL UCAVs Armed With Mortar Bombs

An IEAF Mi-35, Mi-8MTV-1, Mi-17 and UH-60A+ Black Hawk at Kabul.

[2] Islamic Emirate Welcomes Return of Afghan Pilots

Disaster At Hand: Documenting Afghan Military Equipment Losses Since June 2021 until August 14, 2021