Afghanistan has signalled that seeking military assistance from India was on its radar, though right now Kabul had sufficient firepower provided by the United States and several NATO countries.
Afghan Ambassador to India Farid Mamundzay’s remarks on Friday came at a time when the Taliban was assaulting three of Afghanistan’s key cities—Kandahar, Herat and Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province. The fall of these strategically located cities can culminate in a siege of Kabul and pave the way for Taliban’s full takeover of Afghanistan.
But Afghan national forces, far better equipped and trained than 1996, when the country fell to the Taliban, have credible firepower to stall a Taliban advance. But the key to the Afghan government’s success is air power, which can shift the balance of power vis-à-vis the Taliban in its favour.
Right now, the US is launching air strikes, but these could drop after August 31, when attacks could be confined only to international terror groups in Afghanistan, and spare the Taliban, in tune with the Doha accords. Analysts say that in case the US does not target the Taliban, the Afghan air force could do so, provided countries such as Russia and India step in to provide technical support to maintain the Afghan fleet of warplanes and helicopters.
Afghan air force has 162 airplanes and helicopters, providing the government considerable capacity for force projection. But a major problem is arising as the US is not only withdrawing its troops but also the bulk of the 16,000 security contractors from Afghanistan, who have been maintaining these planes to keep them in fly-away conditions. As a result, over time, a large part of the Afghan air force may face attrition and end up being grounded, unless this problem is assuredly resolved.
Responding to a question on military assistance from India Mamundzay said, "There are currently no talks with regard to receiving any military assistance from India as we are receiving sufficient support from the US and several NATO member-states."
"Should we get to a stage where Indian-military assistance is required, we would be certainly asking for it," the Afghan foreign envoy had told ANI in an earlier interview.
The need for air support has become all the more pressing as 10,000 Pakistani terrorists, backed by Islamabad have entered Afghanistan, the Afghan government said
In a video message, a spokesman for President Ashraf Ghani that thousands of terrorists had entered Afghanistan from Pakistan to carry out a proxy war, ANI
The Afghan air force possesses A-29 Super Tucano strike aircraft and AC-208 Combat Caravan planes. Both these propeller-driven planes can fire laser-guided bombs to ground targets, held by the Taliban, the Politico magazine is reporting.
Besides the US has supplied the Afghans new Black Hawk helicopters. Since 2014, the US has dispatched 53 UH-60 Black Hawk choppers, after it forced the Afghans not to buy the Russian-made Mi-17 workhorse helicopters, following the deterioration of US-Russia ties.
The Taliban is well aware that Afghan air power is key to victory, defeat or a draw. Consequently, the Pak-backed militant group is carrying out targeted assassinations of pilots, to diminish the potency of the Afghan air force.
In a previous interview with CNN-TV18 on Friday, Mamundzay asserted that should the Afghan government have “15 to 20 Mi-35 helicopters, or 30 to 40 Black Hawks, they (the Taliban) would not be able to hold ground”. He added: “Taliban have the same equipment, weapons and ammunition that we have. Our superiority lies in air support and we appreciate the support that the US has recently promised, that they would support us with more air support. We call on all responsible countries in the region, including Russia, Iran and India, to provide us the required air support.”
Mamundzay pointed out that despite the hype that was being created, the Afghan army significantly outnumbered the Taliban. “We outnumber Taliban by five or six times, a force of 70,000 to 75,000 cannot face a force of around 400,000...We are going through a turbulent time, but the resilience of our people and the heroic patriotism of our forces is there to defend Afghanistan,” he observed.
Pointing to the Taliban’s game plan before entering negotiations after winter, the Afghan envoy said: “We feel that Taliban are buying time for themselves to continue with their military adventurism and capture more land. And then when we get to winter, they will propose peace negotiations when fighting is difficult. And then they speak from the position of strength, that we hold XYZ percentage of the landmass, now agree to a peace deal on our terms, or else face defeat.”