The ‘Desert Diablos’ – DoS Air Wing Afghanistan Patches

I went down a bit of a rabbit-hole for this week’s post which features my small collection of U.S. Department of State Air Wing patches that a mate brought back for me from one of his tours in Afghanistan. I thought that it would be a quick write-up until I started gathering some contextual information and before I knew it, I was downloading all sorts of declassified audits and other reports regarding their activities in Afghanistan. The reason I wanted to keep it short was to allow time to restructure my site to include additional pages featuring parts of my collection and also my TRADE insignia. Unfortunately that did not happen and I accidentally changed the overall site theme to this one (which I am not sure I like) and cannot revert to the previous layout.  So, I may delay the next post whilst I figure things out and try to make sense of it all. If you want to be kept up to date for the new content, please bookmark or FOLLOW the page.

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DOS Air Wing Afghanistan juleswings

The United States Department of State (DOS), also referred to as the State Department, was established in 1789 as the first administrative arm of the executive branch of the U.S. federal government and is the American equivalent of the ministry of foreign affairs in other nations. Its primary duties are advising the U.S. president, administering diplomatic missions, negotiating international treaties and agreements, and representing the U.S. at the United Nations.

In 1978, the US Congress created the Bureau of International Narcotics Matters (INM) as an agency reporting to the Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights, with a general mission of developing policies and programs to combat international narcotics and crime. With the growing influx of cocaine into the US in the 1980’s the South and Central American regions were its initial focus. This included using a crop duster aircraft to eradicate illicit crops in Mexico. A separate Air Wing (DoS Air Wing) was established in 1986 as use of aviation assets grew in the war on drugs.

By the 1990’s the bureau’s activities had expanded to the Balkan region and in 1995, partially to reflect the global expansion, the INM was renamed the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). The aviation assets became officially known as the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs’ Office of Aviation (INL/A) although the title is often used interchangeably with DoS Air Wing. The aircraft fleet also grew from crop spraying planes to larger transports and helicopters as well as armed escort and Search & Rescue aircraft.

DoS Air Wing-inl aircraft-chart 2018

After the September 11 attacks the Air Wing went on to expand its operations from mainly anti-narcotics operations to providing security support for United States nationals and interests, primarily in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

In 2006, the Air Wing established a program to support counter-narcotic missions in Afghanistan. This included supporting the Afghanistan Eradication Force, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency interdiction operations, providing reconnaissance and C&C assets, passenger and cargo movement. They operated from two bases, Camp Alvares (named in honour of Mario Alvarado, an INL pilot killed in the shoot-down of an OV-10 “Bronco” airplane while in Colombia) which was an extension of Kabul International Airport and from Kandahar at Camp Valdes (named in honour of Julio Valdes, a Cuban ex-patriot, long-time U.S. citizen, who was the first pilot in the INL aviation program. Julio was lost at sea during bad weather in 2001 while ferrying a T-65 Ayres aircraft from Colombia to the U.S.).

DOS Air Wing camp alvarado Dec 2012
An unclassified satellite photo of the State Department’s diplomatic support facility, Camp Alvarado, at Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan in December 2012.
DoS Air Wing Bell UH-1H Huey II Afghanistan Mar 2007
A camouflaged DoS Air Wing Bell UH-1H Huey II (205) gunship owned by the US Dept of State and operated on their behalf by Dyncorp contractors (overseen by State Dept supervisors). They are used to protect poppy eradication teams on the ground in Afghanistan. 22 March 2007. Photo: Rob Neil
DoS Air Wing Desert Diablos juleswings collection
DoS Air Wing ‘Desert Diablos’ Huey gunship crew patch. Collection: Julian Tennant

DoS Air Wing Huey II flares

The DoS Air Wing also provided medical evacuation and a search-and-rescue capability initially using ten Huey-II helicopters and various leased fixed and rotary-wing aircraft.  The aviation program facilitated access into distant Afghan provinces where few or no road infrastructure existed and in 2009 the Wing began transporting personnel air to locations around Afghanistan for diplomatic missions. This marked the Wing’s first departure from flying traditional INL missions and required it to buy additional aircraft, including the De Havilland Canada DHC-8-315Q ‘Dash 8’.

DoS Air Wing De Havilland Canada DHC-8-315Q 'Dash 8'. Photo: Brendon Attard
DoS Air Wing De Havilland Canada DHC-8-315Q ‘Dash 8’. Photo: Brendon Attard
DoS Air Wing Dash 8 patch - juleswings collection
DoS Air Wing patch worn by crews of the ‘Dash 8’ aircraft. Collection: Julian Tennant

The assets allocated for these shuttle operations became known as Embassy Air, which operated like a real airline with ticket sales scheduled flight times ferrying people to and from the Embassy and various locations every day. By 2019 the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) report suggested that the high ticket prices may be hampering diplomatic efforts with some bureaus being unable to afford to pay for the flights. By then, the cost of the 7-minute helicopter flight from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to the nearby Camp Alvarado at Kabul International Airport had risen to US$1,500 one way, an increase of nearly 400% from the price four years previously.

DoS Air Wing PSD patch - juleswings collection
Locally made DoS Air Wing Personal Security Detail patch. Collection: Julian Tennant
DoS Air Wing 'Desert Diablos' - Kabul, Afghanistan 2013
DoS Air Wing contractors – Kabul, Afghanistan 2013.

Responsibility for maintenance and operations of the DoS Air Wing has been managed by private contractors since 1998 when the department entered into an aviation services contract with Dyncorp International.  In September 2016, AAR Airlift took over the Worldwide Aviation Support Services (WASS) contract from Dyncorp, however the September 2018 State Department OIG audit report indicated that on 1 November 2017, Dyncorp began its fifth extension of the worldwide contract, worth US$4.9 billion. The OIG report also stated that the contract included overseeing a workforce of 1,500 contractors worldwide who were responsible for all the operational and logistical manning of INL/A. In Afghanistan, most of the Air Wing contractors were former US service personnel, although a January 2018 OIG report did raise concerns about the contractors not having the necessary security clearances and access required to effectively do their jobs, possibly raising security concerns, however the investigators did not report whether this deficiency had contributed to any dangerous incidents.

The video below is a  slide-show from a DoS Air Wing contractor in Afghanistan. Jan 2006- Dec 2007

DoS Embassy Air CH-46
An armed DoS Air Wing “Embassy Air” CH-46E ‘Sea Knight’ on the ground at Kabul on Mar. 23, 2020. (image US Embassy via Overseas Equipment Solutions)

The video below shows DynCorp contractors firing the mounted M240D machine guns on an Embassy Air CH-46E in 2015.

In the early morning hours of August 31, the last US military aircraft took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport, officially ending America and it’s coalition partners nearly 20-year-long war in Afghanistan. In a Pentagon news briefing, General Frank McKenzie, head of US Central Command, said the US had evacuated 79,000 people from Kabul, including 6,000 American citizens, since August 14, a day before the Taliban took control of the capital city. The equipment left behind included 73 (permanently disabled) aircraft including 7 DoS Air Wing CH-46E helicopters which featured in several media reports of the Taliban entering the airport. It will be interesting to read the next State Department OIG report to see how else the withdrawal may have impacted the INL/A program.

DOS embassy air after Taliban
31 August 2021. An ignominious end. Taliban fighters from the Fateh Zwak unit, wielding American supplied weapons, equipment and uniforms, inspect one of the 7 (disabled) DoS Embassy Air CH-46E helicopters that were left behind at Kabul airport after the U.S. Military completed their withdrawal from Afghanistan. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times.

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Author: juleswings

Military insignia collector / researcher, with an interest in airborne and special operations units, para wings & badges.

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