Research Articles

Joining Forces Over Afghanistan: The EPAF “Experiment”



From 2002 to 2003, F-16s of the Royal Netherlands Air Force, the Royal Norwegian Air Force and the Royal Danish Air Force flew side by side in the hostile skies over Afghanistan. United under the wings of the European Participating Air Forces (EPAF), a unique, trinational alliance, they represented their countries’ flying contribution to the American-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). Each country deployed six F-16 fighter-bombers, together forming one squadron-sized detachment. In theory at least, the EPAF enabled the smaller European air forces to make a proportionally greater contribution to OEF than they could have done individually. By joining forces, the participating air forces made optimal use of their limited resources – a typical small powers strategy enacted by the three countries to overcome the structural limitations of their military capabilities in a long-standing allied arrangement. This article is a comparative study of the experiences gained concerning the cooperation between the three air forces and the interoperability of the EPAF detachment within the larger OEF coalition; its conclusion is that, although working within the trinational framework revealed differences on the political, military-operational, tactical-technical and personnel level, most of these problems were eventually overcome. All things considered, the EPAF did offer these smaller countries an instrument to demonstrate their solidarity with the United States and provide a significant contribution to the Global War on Terror, making it a prime “operational” example of effective small or middle power strategy to mitigate (combat) limitations in an asymmetrical multinational relationship vis-à-vis the United States.


Royal Netherlands Air ForceRoyal Norwegian Air ForceRoyal Danish Air ForceEuropean Participating Air ForcesEnduring Freedomcoalition warfare
  • Year: 2021
  • Volume: 4 Issue: 1
  • Page/Article: 232–243
  • DOI: 10.31374/sjms.101
  • Submitted on 10 Feb 2021
  • Accepted on 6 Oct 2021
  • Published on 15 Nov 2021
  • Peer Reviewed