Kandahar International Airport (Pashto: د کندهار نړيوال هوايي ډګر‎; referred to by ISAF as Kandahar Airfield, KAF) (IATA: KDH, ICAO: OAKN) is located 9 nautical miles (17 km; 10 mi) south-east[2] of Kandahar City in Afghanistan. It serves as the nation's second main international airport and as one of the largest military bases, capable of housing up to 250 aircraft of all type.[3]

The airport was designed and built by the United States in the late 1950s. It was occupied by the Soviets during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan. Following their withdrawal the airport remained in control of Najibullah's government until he stepped down in 1992. Thereafter, local warlords and the Taliban took control of the airport until the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. It was also the site of the Indian Airlines Flight 814 incident in 1999.

Since 2007, the airport has been repaired and expanded.[3] It is used for both military and civilian flights. The airport is maintained by the Resolute Support Mission and the Afghan Air Force. The 2nd Wing of the Afghan Air Force (AAF) has a separate base within the airport ground. The Afghan National Police provides security inside the passenger terminal.


Construction (1956-1962)

The airport was designed by Americans in the 1950s.

The airfield itself was built between 1954 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.[4]

Since the airport was designed as a military base, it is likely that the United States intended to use it in case there was a show-down of war between the United States and former USSR. While the United States was busy building Kandahar International Airport, the USSR was busy in the north, building Kabul International Airport.[5]

Soviet invasion

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.[6]

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 the mid-1990s to support humanitarian flights.

Taliban era

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 Pakistani terrorists belonging to Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, who hijacked and landed Indian Airlines Flight 814 on the airfield in December 1999, ordered the Government of India to ensure the release and safe-passage of three alleged Pakistani 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 Government of India and the hijacking group is not known at this point, it did secure the release of the three prisoners being held in a prison in India.

21st century

Aerial view of the airport in 2005
Night view of the airport in 2007

During Operation Enduring Freedom in late 2001, Kandahar Airport was one of the first coalition bases established in Afghanistan. It was secured by the Light Armored Reconnaissance element of the US Marines 15th MEU in mid-December 2001, just a few weeks after the first coalition footprint was established by the United States Army at Camp Rhino in the desert to the southwest. The airport was captured by an air insertion coinciding with a rapid overland push from troops based at Camp Rhino.

Major battles between the Taliban and local anti-Taliban forces had been fought at the airport just days earlier, and when coalition troops arrived there were abandoned weapons - including a BM-21 still loaded with rockets - scattered around the terminal. Australian and Canadian special forces were amongst the first coalition troops to relocate to Kandahar Airport, and by Christmas Day the US-led coalition had established a footprint of at least 1,000 troops.

A perimeter was quickly secured around the terminal building and airstrip, and initially all troops worked and lived in and around the main terminal building itself. The first spartan ablutions were established in the middle of a large rose garden out front, but shower facilities were not established for several weeks. The accommodation area began to enlarge down along the airfield to where the current military base is located, and by April the coalition presence had expanded to several thousand personnel.

The 159th Combat Aviation Brigade became the main U.S. Army Aviation unit at the airport while the 451st Air Expeditionary Wing became the main USAF unit.

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 replacing USMC AV-8B's.[7] After June 2009 under Operation Herrick they were replaced by a squadron of Panavia Tornado GR4 aircraft, carrying out close air support and recce missions.[8]

The Royal Air Force also has 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 as part of No. 904 Expeditionary Air Wing,[9] the squadron's home was RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire until the end of 2011 when the squadron's home station was changed to RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire.[10]

Eight General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon 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.

A 12 Squadron Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 taxis out towards the runway.

The Afghan government 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 began to be used for civilian flights. It was used for the 2006 Hajj by Muslim pilgrims.

With the closure of Camp Julien in Kabul in November 2005, most of the Canadian Forces personnel in Afghanistan were transferred to Kandahar province. 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.

U.S. Air Force A-10C Thunderbolt II aircraft from the 354th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron taxi at the airport in 2010
An MQ-9 Reaper equipped with Gorgon Stare from the 62d Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron taking off at the airport

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.[11]

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.[12] 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 as this is the main airport in the south of the country. NATO operates a major trauma hospital at the base, treating battle casualties, including Afghan civilians and enemy forces.[13]

In July 2007, the post of Commander, Kandahar Airfield (COMKAF) was created as a NATO appointment which, until recently, has been held by an officer of the Royal Air Force of OF-6 rank.

Commander, Kandahar Airfield has been held by:

  • July 2007 - Air Commodore A D Stevenson[14]
  • February 2008 - Air Commodore R W Judson (exact date unknown)
  • September 2008 - Acting Air Commodore A D Fryer[15]
  • July 2009 - Air Commodore M A B Brecht[16]
  • May 2010 - Air Commodore G Moulds[17]
  • November 2010 - Brigadier General Jeffrey Kendall[18]
  • November 2011 - Brigadier General Scott Dennis
  • November 2012 - Brigadier General John Dolan
  • November 2013 - Brigadier General Michael Fantini[19]

During late September 2007 a number of French Dassault Mirage F1 and F2000s relocated here from Dushanbe Airport, Tajikistan.[20]

The surge - Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration (RSOI)

The 143rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command (ESC) deployed to Kandahar Airfield in February, 2009 and was the first ESC deployed to Afghanistan assuming responsibility as the Joint Sustainment Command-Afghanistan (JSC-A).[21] Prior to their arrival, Sustainment Brigades managed the logistical operations however with the impending surge in U.S. Forces, the ESC was chosen for the Reception, Staging, Onward Movement, and Integration (RSOI) mission, as well as, coordinating sustainment distribution with joint, strategic and coalition stakeholders.[22]

2009 surge and onwards

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.[23]

According to OSGEOINT (Open Source Imagery & Geospacial Intelligence), imagery analysis shows 2 deployments of unmanned aerial vehicles on the northeast section of the airfield. These two deployments were current as of 2012 and consisted of four MQ-1 Predators and four MQ-9 Reapers with the associated support equipment.

As of January 2012, Kandahar Airfield has a population of roughly 26,000 personnel. The United States Army Corps of Engineers began expansion work with the addition of new facilities for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), particularly the Afghan Air Force (AAF).

Since 2011, modified Beechcraft King Airs have been used by the US Army for surveillance and reconnaissance within Afghanistan.[24]


Between 2008 and September 2014 the Belgian Air Component operated F-16s from here.[25]

Between May 2010 and September 2014 the USAF operated Beechcraft MC-12W Liberty aircraft from here for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) missions.[26]

Airlines and destinations

A Kam Air passenger plane at Kandahar International Airport in 2012
Airlines Destinations
Afghan Jet International Kabul
Ariana Afghan Airlines Delhi, Dubai-International
Kam Air Dubai-International, Kabul, Mashhad[27]
Airlines Destinations
Coyne Airways Dubai-International
FitsAir Dubai-International
Kalitta Air Bahrain, Hong Kong, New York-JFK[28]
Silk Way Airlines Baku[29]

Kandahar Airfield Memorial

Accidents and incidents

  • In December 1999, one person was killed and 17 wounded during the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814.
  • On 8 December 2015, at least 61 people were killed and at least 35 wounded during the 2015 Kandahar Airport bombing.
  • On 17 December 2016, a shooting at the airport resulted in the deaths of at least six people.[32]

See also



  1. ^ Airport record for Kandahar International Airport at Landings.com. Retrieved 2013-8-1
  2. ^ a b "Aerodrome Edition 83 – Effective date 12 Oct 17" (PDF). Civil Aviation Authority of Afghanistan. Retrieved 10 January 2018. 
  3. ^ a b "Kandahar airport gaining international trust". Pajhwok Afghan News. June 3, 2015. Retrieved 2015-06-04. 
  4. ^ Kaplan, Robert(2001); Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Vintage Departures; ISBN 1-4000-3025-0, pp.185-186
  5. ^ "In Small Things Remembered". Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  6. ^ Kaplan, p.186
  7. ^ "UK combat jets fly to Afghanistan". BBC. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "Defence 2009: A Year in Pictures - Picture 10". MoD. Archived from the original on 26 October 2012. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  9. ^ "904 Expeditionary Air Wing". RAF. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  10. ^ "RAF Lyneham farewell parade for departure of squadrons". BBC. Retrieved 2 December 2013. 
  11. ^ www.centcom.mil - Canada Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. ^ Exit Strategy. "Exit Strategy". Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  13. ^ Reilly, Corinne, "Near Afghanistan’s front lines, a daily fight for life", Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, 31 July 2011.
  14. ^ Royal Air Force Air Rank Appointments List 2/07 retrieved 21 February 2007
  15. ^ Royal Air Force Air Rank Appointments List 04/08 retrieved 9 June 2008
  16. ^ Royal Air Force Air Rank Appointments List 3/09 retrieved 8 April 2009
  17. ^ Royal Air Force Air Rank Appointments List 1-10 dated 3 Mar 10
  18. ^ RAF News by date: UK hands over command of Kandahar airfield retrieved 16 Jan 11
  19. ^ Brig Gen Michael Fantini Official Air Force Biography dated June 2014
  20. ^ March 2008, p. 9.
  21. ^ "Logistics command will be first in Afghanistan". Army Times. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  22. ^ "Victory Sustained - 05.01.2009". DVIDS. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  23. ^ Gertz, Bill, "Inside The Ring: Record Afghan air traffic", Washington Times, July 2, 2009, p. B1.
  24. ^ AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. July 2014. p. 17. 
  25. ^ AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. November 2014. p. 13. 
  26. ^ AirForces Monthly. Stamford, Lincolnshire, England: Key Publishing Ltd. November 2014. p. 29. 
  27. ^ "Photo". Retrieved 20 June 2016. 
  28. ^ "Airline Route Networks". ch-aviation. Retrieved 8 December 2015. 
  29. ^ "Silk Way Airlines". Retrieved 20 June 2016. 
  30. ^ Canada, Veterans Affairs. "Afghanistan - Canadian Armed Forces - Memorials - Remembrance - Veterans Affairs Canada". Retrieved 20 June 2016. 
  31. ^ "Kandahar war memorial heading to Canada - Toronto Star". Retrieved 20 June 2016. 
  32. ^ https://www.reuters.com/article/us-afghanistan-attack-women-idUSKBN146054?il=0


  • March, P (2008). The Royal Air Force Yearbook 2008. Fairford, UK: The Royal Air Force Charitable Trust Enterprises. 

External links