NEW DELHI: India on Thursday handed over a pair of Mi-24 helicopters to Afghanistan with the aim of strengthening the Afghan air force as it battles a deadly Taliban insurgency against the backdrop of the US looking to exit the war-torn country after a 17-year stay.
“These are a replacement for the four attack helicopters previously gifted by India to Afghanistan in 2015," said the Indian embassy in Kabul. “The Mi-24 helicopters shall boost the capability of the Afghan air force and enhance the effectiveness of the Afghan National Defence and Security Force in combating the scourge of terrorism," it said.
Indian ambassador to Kabul Vinay Kumar handed over the two helicopters to Afghanistan’s national defence minister Asadullah Khalid at the Kabul Air Force base.
“The helicopters were purchased from Belarus and were handed to the Afghan Air Force in an official ceremony attended by the acting minister of defence Asadullah Khalid, the Indian ambassador, Afghan Air Force commander Abdul Fahim Ramin," said a Twitter post from Khalid’s handle. “Two more of the same type will be purchased and supplied to the Afghan Air Force to make the aerial operations more effective," a second Twitter post from Khalid’s handle said.
The Mi-24 is a large helicopter gunship, can be used for assault and transport missions given that it can ferry up to eight people, according to news reports.
The handover comes at a particularly crucial time for Afghanistan, which has been looking for alternative sources of funds and weapons to sustain its defence forces in the event of a US exit and the eventual drying up of international funds to steady the country.
New Delhi has pledged and donated more than $3 billion in aid and reconstruction efforts to Afghanistan, it has been reluctant to send soldiers to reinforce a US-led multinational force. India’s reluctance stems from the fact that its embassy in Kabul and its consulates in other parts of Afghanistan have been targeted by terrorist groups such as the Haqqani network that are seen as linked to Pakistan-backed Taliban insurgents who are aiming to dislodge President Ashraf Ghani.
Pakistan wants an Islamabad friendly government in Kabul that it can fall back on in times of hostilities with India. India on its part wants a government in Kabul that if not friendly, is at least neutral in its dealings with Pakistan and India. Though New Delhi is itself an importer of arms, it has been trying to source military hardware through third countries like Russia and Belarus to hand over to Kabul.
The US has been holding talks with the Taliban as it looks to leave the country. New Delhi is opposed to an interim administration in Kabul with the Taliban as part of the government and Afghan elections, scheduled for September, being postponed.