Hecker assumes command of US, NATO air forces in Afghanistan
By PHILLIP WALTER WELLMAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 11, 2017
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.”