In video

James Bays takes a ride in
one of Afghanistan's helicopters

Six new helicopter gunships are expected to arrive in Afghanistan in August as part of US plans to boost Afghan air power and ship 186 aircraft to the underequipped air force by 2012.

James Bays, Al Jazeera's Afghanistan correspondent, took a ride in one of the ageing choppers in the present fleet.

Flying high above the city of Kabul onboard a helicopter belonging to the Afghan air force.

It is over 30 years old and the crew are experienced but part of a very small contingent of pilots in this country.

Once the Afghan air force was the biggest in central Asia - now efforts are under way to rebuild the country's air power.
  
The Afghan air force is still a fledgling operation and most of the helicopters date from the era of the Soviet occupation.

Until the Soviet-backed government was overthrown in 1992 the air force, army, police and security agencies had until then been trained and equipped by the Soviet Union.

Bombing raids

Nato and the Americans know their forces will not be able to leave the country until the Afghan military is up to full strength.

Recent bombing raids have caused civilian deaths and are deeply controversial but for now the government of Hamid Karzai, the president, relies on foreign air power, most of it American.

The Afghan president has promised to expand his own air fleet but the general in charge of the Afghan air force says not enough has been done in the last five years since the fall of the Afghan government.

"I am not happy with what the international community was doing to help the afghan air corp before," General Abdul Wahab Wardak, head of the national air corps, told Al Jazeera. 

"But what they have been doing in the last few months I am pleased with, I wish it had been done earlier."

The United States will supply 186 aircraft, including reconnaissance planes, helicopters, helicopter gunships and fixed-wing planes, over the next six years.

By 2012, Afghanistan will have full control over all of its air bases, except for Bagram, the major former Soviet base north of Kabul which is the hub for US-led troops in the country.

The pilots flying for the the include men who used to fly for for the communist government, others were mujahidin fighters, some even flew as Taliban pilots. 

The US is also sponsoring the training of 4,550 new personnel.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies