Operating from KAF (Kandahar Airfield) in Afghanistan's south are six F-16 fighter bombers, which are flying combat missions daily. Crews, ground personnel and a protection squad account for about 125 men. Many flights are recce and "scare" flights, but about every week or so the jets are requested to engage ground targets. E.g., the MoD overview file for 28 0ct/4 Nov states that two F-16's destroyed two 107mm rocket launching sites which were threatening KAF. The weapons used were laser-guided GBU-12 Paveway II bombs.
Then there is the 300-strong detachment securing KAIA (Kabul International Airport). They guard the innermost perimeter, this for both military and civil aviation (besides, the latter is becoming ever more important). The detachment has been there for aeons now (2002, to be exact), and even though it must be one of the safest assignments in the whole of Afghanistan, it's a wonder that apart from a couple of wounded now and then there haven't been fatalities. It is composed of a variety of subunits and changed every three months. Every new batch is transported from Belgium to Dushanbe, Tajikistan with airbuses, then from there to Kabul with C-130's. The 15th Transport Wing has constantly about three to four of these old but reliable and recently updated transports in service between KAIA and Dushanbe, and regularly provides transport services for our allies too. Aviation freaks may be interested to know that the Belgian Air Force will replace its Hercules transports with the Airbus A 400M, but delays in the programme have postponed the first delivery to 2012 at the earliest. As a sidenote, the problems have been such that several countries (Italy, Portugal, South Africa) involved in the project have already quit or cancelled their orders. Which is a shame imho, since the A400M will be a magnificent transport plane once it is operational, capable of delivering a payload of 30 tonnes over a distance of 2450 nautical miles.
Third, a small platoon-sized EOD group of about thirty men is embedded with the Germans in Kunduz. While not in an actual combat role, this group has made itself extremely useful in that it has, over the past three years or so, neutralised or otherwise destroyed litterally tens of thousands of explosives, mostly mines and mortar rounds:
Fourth, a 70-strong OMLT (Operational Mentoring and Liasion Team) is operational also near Kunduz, where they are responsble for the training of an ANA infantry battalion. This is actually Belgium's only ground combat engagement, for while this troop is not supposed to be fighting taliban, the nature of their work implies that they come under fire regularly. The MoD entry for 1 and 2 November e.g. reads that the OMLT and the battalion it is "coaching" were engaged east of Kunduz. Rather exceptionally the Belgian EOD team was present too, clearing IED's around a place called Basoz. After the mission, the 2nd ANA battalion (kandak in Pashtun), the OMLT, and the EOD team moved to Chahar Dareh, but were still taken under fire.
The Belgian camo, see the instructor, is quite good given the bleak surroundings, but the camo of the ANA soldiers strikes me as incongruous. These guys stand out like sores and must be easy targets. You wonder who came up with the folly of kaki in a desert battleground.
A second OMLT team, about thirty-five men strong, will arrive in Afghanistan towards the end of November. They will bring the total of Belgian military personnel in Afghanistan to about 650.
All in all it's not that bad, but still not comparable with the Dutch mission in Afghanistan, which has seen fierce and unfortunately bloody ground combat for a couple of years now. Even so, it's amazing what a difference a government with half of the socialists out can accomplish. The complicated political situation in Belgium has led to a coalition in which the Flemish socialists find themselves in the opposition, while the Walloon socialists are still in the government. Luckily, not in a position where they can do much damage to Belgium's NATO responsibilities: the current Secretary of Defense, Pieter De Crem, is a center-right Christian Democrat and a far more competent personality than his predecessor, the catastrophic André Flahaut of the Parti Socialiste. The current Belgian PM, Herman Van Rompuy, also a Christian Democrat, can be cautiously labeled center-right too. He is actually tipped for the post of EU President, but I'd rather have - and I mean that very honestly - that he stays on his post, because we finally have a degree of stability here. A stability that not only allows us to come up with a more than symbolic military presence near our allies in AF, but also a stability that is rather business-friendly, as opposed to a situation where you have politicians in charge who see the private sector as enemies, like in some recent governments. I guess this is one of the reasons why Belgium, even though we too have seen a rather troublesome surge in unemployment figures, has until now withered the economic crisis relatively well. But more about that later. Time allowing.