Afghanistan is poised to get four Russia-made Mi-25 helicopters from India to help it fight a growing Taliban insurgency.
The announcement in this regard is likely to be announced during the visit of Afghan National Security Advisor, Mohammad Hanif Atmar to Delhi later this week.
This will be the first offensive weaponry given to Afghanistan, which has so far been the recipient of jeeps, three transport ‘Cheetal’ helicopters and military training from India.
Afghanistan’s military has been in dire need of helicopters, but India in the past had ignored repeated requests to hold strategic partnership with Afghanistan because of the closeness of Ghani’s government with the Pakistan government, the military establishment and the ISI.
By giving nod to this deal, India will send a strong signal of cooperating with Afghanistan in its fight against Taliban. At the same time it will also send a strong signal to Pakistan which continues to support the Taliban leadership.
The transfer also assumes greater geo-strategic significance given that such a deal would need the tacit approval of the US. Moreover, the transfer will have to be approved by Moscow since the equipment is of Russian origin.
India’s Mi-25 helicopters are the export version of the old Soviet Union’s Mi-24D helicopters and were inducted in the No. 125 Helicopter Unit of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in May 1984. The Afghan Air Force is already operating five heavily armored older Mi-35 supplied by the Czech Republic in 2008 but they are rarely operational.
The Mi-25 is a close-air support aircraft armed with a flexibly mounted machine gun, as well as rocket and grenade launchers. It can be deployed against ground troops including armored and slow moving air targets.
In an interview to an agency in Kabul last week, Atmar said that both the al-Qaeda as well as the Islamic State are gaining ground in the country, even as the Taliban is challenging Afghan forces in several locations.
Taliban recently took control of the key northern city of Kunduz with its capture marking a significant military victory for its recently appointed leader, Mullah Akhtar Mansoor.
Afghan National Army is severely under-equipped and under-staffed, counting only about 1.7 lakh men in its forces, which is the lowest it has been since 2011.
According to an official, ANA was currently engaged in fighting Taliban in at least 57 areas of the country, as the militant group has changed its strategy from ambushes and firing to assaults on town centres and highways.