US general sees problems, progress in developing Afghan air force

ATIONAL HARBOR, Md. - The US-led effort to train the Afghan air force faces big challenges ranging from security threats to possible repercussions from procurement scandals that have triggered a review of infrastructure and equipment projects, the US general in charge said.
"This is a hard deal. We're far from 100-percent guaranteed on delivery," said Air Force Brigadier General John Michel, who leads NATO Air Training Command Afghanistan, which is due to complete its training of the Afghan air force by Dec. 31, 2017 - three years after most US forces leave Afghanistan.
The two-star general cited progress in training and planning for Afghanistan to assume control over the air force but said many factors were outside his control.
Michel spoke to Reuters this week during the annual Air Force Association conference here.
He said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force was re-examining all infrastructure projects after a report that one $37 million aviation facility may have been used to store opium.
The Pentagon also has opened a criminal investigation into the Army aviation unit that awarded contracts for maintaining and overhauling Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters.
Michel said Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, who heads ISAF, was trying to insulate the training command from any fallout from the procurement problems.
"If they downscale some of our infrastructure (and cut aircraft), there's a degrading effect on our capacity," he said. "All of these become impediments to our success while we fight the clock."
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