The Royal Air Force (RAF) Puma detachment that has been serving in Afghanistan in support of the NATO Resolute Support Mission is returning to RAF Benson as part of the withdrawal of NATO forces from the country. The three Puma helicopters and the personnel from Joint Helicopter Command that have been serving in Kabul since March 2015. The helicopters are now returning to their home base in Oxfordshire and are being flown from Kabul to RAF Brize Norton on an Antonov AN-225.
Since March 2015, the detachment has been serving as part of the NATO-led non-combat mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, known as the Resolute Support Mission. During this period, the detachment has been formed from 33 Squadron and 230 Squadron, with support from other JHC personnel and units. During the deployment, the Pumas flew 12,800 hours, which is the equivalent of over 533 days in the air. The medium support helicopters also transported 126,000 passengers and moved 660,000kgs of freight.
During Operation TORAL, the operational name given to the UK element of Resolute Support Mission, the Pumas were based at Kabul International Airport. From there, they were able to provide vital airborne transport to UK and NATO forces to mitigate the extant ground threat. This included transporting personnel and equipment around the different urban, mountainous and desert terrains in the Kabul area, as well as supporting the deployment of the NATO Security Quick Reaction Force as needed.
The Puma HC.Mk 2 medium support helicopter operates under Royal Air Force Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) control. The aircraft is used in a variety of combat roles, including the tactical movement of troops, weapons, ammunition and stores on the battlefield, as well as the extraction of casualties and in response to medical emergencies on the frontline. It is also employed during non-combatant evacuations, and humanitarian and disaster relief operations. The aircraft is capable of carrying 16 passengers, 12 fully equipped troops or up to 2 tonnes of freight, the latter moved as internal cargo or underslung, or a mix of the two.