Kandahar International Airport (more commonly known as Kandahar Airport) (IATA: KDH, ICAO: OAKN) is located 10 miles (16 kilometers) south-east of Kandahar City in Afghanistan. The airport was built by the United States in the 1960s, under the United States Agency for International Development program. It may have been intended to be used as a possible U.S. military base in case the United States and former USSR went to war. It was occupied by the Soviets in 1979, and was severely damaged during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan. It received further damages again during October 2001 Operation Enduring Freedom when the Taliban government was being toppled.
As of 2007, Kandahar Airport has been rebuilt and is used for both military and civilian flights. At first it was mainly occupied by the United States armed forces but since 2006 the airfield has been maintained by the Canadian Forces. There are also other forces present from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). It is sometimes difficult to locate the airport from the sky during day-time because of lack of contrast with the ground and the usual dust or haze in the area. But during night the runway is well lit up and can easily be spotted because it is isolated from the population area.
The airfield itself was built between 1956 and 1962 by American consultants, for a cost of USD 15 million. Bearing a great resemblance to typical U.S. architecture of the time, its original purpose was as a refueling stop for long-range piston engined aircraft traveling between the Middle East and Southeast Asia. However, with the advent of jet aircraft, such stops were no longer necessary, and the airport saw little use. Since the airport was designed as a military base, it is more likely that the United States intended to use it as such in case there was a show-down of war between the United States and former USSR. While the United States was busy building Kandahar Airport, the USSR was busy in the north building Kabul Airport.
During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the airfield was used intensively by the Soviet Air Forces, both as logistical facility for flying in troops and supplies and as a base for launching airstrikes against local Mujahideen groups.
Fighting in the Kandahar area was particularly intense. However Kandahar airport was left relatively untouched and its main building was largely intact at the end of the war. The airstrip did suffer extensive damage that was subsequently repaired by the United Nations in in the mid 1990s to support humanitarian flights.
The airport was mostly used at this time for military and humanitarian purposes, hosting regular flights of the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross to and from Kabul, Jalalabad, Herat and Peshawar (Pakistan). Ariana Afghan Airlines (the national carrier of Afghanistan) also flew infrequent flights out of Kandahar to Pakistan and a few locations in Afghanistan (Herat, Kabul, Jalalabad).
The airport came into the public eye during the tense drama that was played out when terrorists, who hijacked and landed Indian Airlines Flight 814 on the airfield in December 1999, ordered the Indian Government to ensure the release and safe-passage of three alleged terrorists in return for letting the occupants of the passenger plane leave without harm. Although the exact nature of the deal that was struck between the Indian Government and the hijacking group is not known at this point, it did secure the release of the 3 prisoners who were being held in a prison in India.
Operation Enduring Freedom
US Marines landed at Kandahar in late 2001 and took over control of the airport. It was occupied and maintained by the Military of the United States since then. The 451st Air Expeditionary Wing is the main USAF unit present. As part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy also had based a squadron of Harrier GR7A aircraft at Kandahar Airfield to provide close air support to coalition ground forces. But since June 2009 they have been replaced by a squadron of Panavia Tornado GR4 aircraft, carrying out close air support and recce misions. The Royal Air Force also has based a detachment of C130 K and J model Hercules transport aircraft from 24, 30, 47 and 70 Squadrons and its attached Engineering detachment from 24/30 and 47/70 Engineering Squadrons RAF Lyneham. Eight F-16 close air support fighters of the Royal Netherlands Air Force were deployed to Kandahar Airfield to support the expanded NATO operation in southern Afghanistan in late 2006.
The government of Afghanistan has been slow in rebuilding the facility, the vast majority of it has been reclaimed from years of neglect and damage by Soviet and Taliban soldiers.
The interior gardens, pools, kitchen galley, restroom facility, and ticketing areas have been restored. With the transition of the U.S. passenger area terminal to the Afghans in 2005, the airport is currently used for civilian flights. It was used for the 2006 Hajj by Muslim pilgrims.
Canadian forces in 2006
With the closure of Camp Julien in Kabul on November 29, 2005, most of the Canadian Forces personnel in Afghanistan were transferred to Kandahar province in the southern part of the country. Canadian Brigadier-General David Fraser took command of the multinational brigade from its headquarters at Kandahar Airfield (KAF) in March 2006.
At the same time, Canada also fielded a battle group for two successive six-month rotations, and deployed a new rotation for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) at Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar. Since 2007, the airport is maintained by NATO under the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) banner, although a prominent base for the US and Canadian Forces, many other Armed Forces are based there. British Forces use Kandahar as their main staging post for the South and fly direct into the Helmand province. Fast jets and combat helicopters are also deployed here as this is the main airport in the troubled south-east of the country.
The deployments in February 2006 brought Task Force Afghanistan in Kandahar to about 2,250 personnel. The mission of TFA was to improve the security situation in the southern areas, and play a key role in the transition from the U.S.-led multinational coalition to NATO leadership. This change was made in southern Afghanistan in the summer of 2006.
Kandahar and NATO
In July 2007, the post of Commander, Kandahar Airfield (COMKAF) was created as a NATO appointment which, to date, has been held by an officer of the Royal Air Force of OF-6 rank.
Commander, Kandahar Airfield has been held by:
No. 904 Wing RAF is stationed at the airport.
2009 troop surge
The 2009 surge in NATO operations in southern Afghanistan pushed the number of aircraft operations at the base from 1,700 to 5,000 flights a week. The numbers meant that Kandahar had become the busiest one-runway airport in the world.
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