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Last Updated: Friday, 18 January 2008, 09:30 GMT
Afghanistan air force is 'reborn'
By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Kabul

US Air Force B-1 bomber
Afghan forces currently rely heavily on US air power
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that his country's air force has been reborn after inaugurating its new headquarters freshly equipped with new aircraft.

His announcement is a boost for Afghanistan's armed forces as their struggle against the Taleban and al-Qaeda continues.

There is a constant need for air power to transport and supply army troops.

The military has taken delivery of 26 new or refurbished aircraft, including Czech-made helicopter gunships.

'God has blessed us'

With US money the government has also acquired transport helicopters and Ukrainian military planes.

These will be added to the 20 or so helicopters the army already has.

File photograph of Afghan President Hamid Karzai
President Karzai said it was a proud moment for his country

Opening a new hangar at Kabul airport to house the fleet, President Karzai was jubilant.

"This is the rebirth of the Afghan air force. God has been kind to us again and has blessed us with the rebirth of the air force," he said.

Although the country's air force was established in 1925 and reached its peak under the Soviet-backed government of the 1980s, it was virtually extinguished in the civil war that followed.

Mr Karzai said mujahideen leaders had taken many of the aircraft abroad where they remained.

The newly boosted air force, which is formally part of the army, plans to recruit 3,500 members in the next three or four years and expand its force to 61 aircraft.

Its new US-funded base has extensive residential space as well as maintenance and repair facilities.

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