The Indian Ambassador to Afghanistan, Vinay Kumar, has handed over the first two of four retrofitted Mi-24V helicopter gunships from Belarus to the Afghan Air Force (AAF) at an air base in Kabul on May 16, the Indian Embassy said in a statement.
“These [Mi-24s] are a replacement for the four attack helicopters previously gifted by India to Afghanistan in 2015,” the embassy said, adding that it will boost the AAFs “effectiveness in “combating the scourge of terrorism.”
Afghanistan, Belarus and India signed a trilateral memorandum of understanding regarding the purchase, all paid for by the Indian government, in 2018.
Previously, India completed the delivery of four Mi-25 (Mi-24D) helicopters and three HAL Cheetah light utility helicopters to the AAF in December 2016.
Notably, all seven Indian-supplied helicopters, in addition to five Mi-35 helicopter gunships supplied by the Czech Republic in 2008, have been grounded for most of last year’s fighting season.
It is unclear whether some of the Indian-supplied helicopters will be able to return to active duty during this year’s fighting season in Afghanistan.
The U.S. government has repeatedly requested Indian military assistance to the AAF as a result of the Ukraine crisis in 2014 and the resulting Western sanctions that, among other things, prohibit the purchase of Russian-made military hardware, including spare parts for the helicopters, by Western countries.
In response the Indian Ministry of Defense “dispatched a team of aviation experts to Kabul in 2016 to assess the needs of the AAF. The experts concluded that it would cost about $50 million to procure spare parts and make repairs on 11 grounded Mi-35 helicopters and seven military transport aircraft,” I explained last year.
The 11 helicopter gunships were likely part of larger Soviet arms deliveries to the then Afghan government during the 1980s, as I noted last year:
During the Afghan-Soviet War, the Soviet Union delivered over 100 Mi-24s — the Mi-35 is the export version of the Mi-24 — to Afghan government forces. Most of the helicopters were destroyed during the subsequent civil war; however, a number of gunships remained in service until the 2001 toppling of the Taliban regime. Despite being inoperable and slowly rusting away at AAF airbases, these helicopters were not scrapped.
Last year, Russia reportedly agreed with India and Afghanistan to take over maintenance of the Indian-supplied Mi-25s and M-17 transport helicopters.
“Two more of the same [Mi-24V] type will be purchased and supplied to the [AAF] in order to make the areal operations more effective,” the Embassy said in the statement.
Mi-24V are close-air support helicopter gunships armed with a YakB four-barreled, 12.7mm, built-in, flexibly mounted machine gun, as well as rocket and grenade launchers.