Afghanistan's fledging air force on Wednesday took delivery of its first two C-130 cargo planes in a boost for the country's military capability as the NATO coalition starts to withdraw.
The C-130 planes, given by the United States, will be used to airlift troops and supplies across Afghanistan as national security forces take on the battle against the Taliban.
As part of its exit strategy from the 12-year war, Washington is helping develop the Afghan Air Force (AAF), but the Kabul government has often complained that the process is too slow.
The AAF currently has a fleet of about 45 helicopters and some small aircraft to tackle the tough Islamist insurgency and to evacuate the growing number of Afghan casualties from the battlefield.
The C-130 planes will be flown by both Afghan and NATO pilots for the first two years until training of AAF pilots is complete.
"These aircrafts have been successfully used in Afghanistan by our NATO allies, we know they will help us a lot," defence minister Bismillah Mohammadi said at a ceremony at Kabul airport.
NATO's top commander in Afghanistan General Joseph Dunford said the planes were proof of Afghanistan's expanding military strength, which will be crucial for stability after NATO combat operations cease next year.
"We should be optimistic about the future when we look at these two new C-130s that will join a fleet of growing and increasingly capable aircraft," Dunford said.
Two other C-130s are due to be delivered by the US next year.
Air power is crucial in the rugged country where a poor road network is often mined by insurgents.
Since 2001, NATO's vast fleet of fighter jets, attack helicopters, unmanned drones and transport aircraft have supported ground troops in operations against the Taliban.
© 2013 AFP
Date: Oct 9, 2013