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Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, Chief Master Sgt. Lisa R. Arnold, Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey B. Taliaferro and Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker attend a change-of-command ceremony at NATO' s Resolute Support headquarters on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Heccker became commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, Chief Master Sgt. Lisa R. Arnold, Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey B. Taliaferro and Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker attend a change-of-command ceremony at NATO' s Resolute Support headquarters on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Heccker became commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, Chief Master Sgt. Lisa R. Arnold, Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey B. Taliaferro and Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker attend a change-of-command ceremony at NATO' s Resolute Support headquarters on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Heccker became commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey L. Harrigian, Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, Chief Master Sgt. Lisa R. Arnold, Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey B. Taliaferro and Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker attend a change-of-command ceremony at NATO' s Resolute Support headquarters on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Heccker became commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)
Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson, left, presents the guidon to incoming commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker at a ceremony at NATO's Resolute Support headquarters on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Behind them is Chief Master Sgt. Lisa R. Arnold.
Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson, left, presents the guidon to incoming commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker at a ceremony at NATO's Resolute Support headquarters on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. Behind them is Chief Master Sgt. Lisa R. Arnold. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)
Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson speaks about the importance of air capability for Afghan forces at a change-of-command ceremony in Kabul on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan Gen. John Nicholson speaks about the importance of air capability for Afghan forces at a change-of-command ceremony in Kabul on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)
Outgoing commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan Maj. Gen. Jeffrey B. Taliaferro speaks at a ceremony in Kabul on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 before ceding authority to Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker.
Outgoing commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan Maj. Gen. Jeffrey B. Taliaferro speaks at a ceremony in Kabul on Tuesday, April 11, 2017 before ceding authority to Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)
Incoming commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker meets Afghan air force officials in Kabul shortly after assuming command on Tuesday, April 11, 2017.
Incoming commander of 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force-Afghanistan and NATO Air Command-Afghanistan Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker meets Afghan air force officials in Kabul shortly after assuming command on Tuesday, April 11, 2017. (Phillip Walter Wellman/Stars and Stripes)

KABUL, Afghanistan — Maj. Gen. James B. Hecker became the top Air Force general in Afghanistan on Tuesday by assuming command of the 9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force and the NATO Air Command.

Hecker took over from Air Force Maj. Gen. Jeffrey B. Taliaferro, who, over the past year, oversaw the integration of dedicated ground attack aircraft into the Afghan air force. Both U.S. and Afghan officials say the aircraft have been instrumental in helping government forces battle the Taliban and other militants.

Hecker praised Taliaferro’s work in Afghanistan at a change-of-command ceremony at NATO’s Resolute Support Headquarters and vowed to “continue to move the ball forward.”

“It will be my goal to push us even further,” he said.

The incoming commander will be responsible for the integration of NATO’s train-and-advise mission and America’s separate counterterrorism mission, known as Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

Hecker is a command pilot with more than 3,300 flying hours. Before coming to Afghanistan, he was the commander of 19th Air Force at Joint Base in San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

“There’s no better leader at this point to take us forward in this mission,” Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said at Tuesday’s ceremony.

“We are here after nearly 16 years because there are terrorists here in this region who wish to do harm to our countries and harm to the people of Afghanistan,” Nicholson said. “We could have no better partner around the world than the Afghan army and the Afghan people.”

wellman.phillip@stripes.com Twitter: @PhillipWellman

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Phillip is a reporter and photographer for Stars and Stripes, based in Kaiserslautern, Germany. From 2016 to 2021, he covered the war in Afghanistan from Stripes’ Kabul bureau. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics.
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