On the evening of December 24 gunmen launched a spectacular attack on government buildings in Kabul. After eight hours of fighting inside the Ministry of Public Works and a nearby social welfare office it was confirmed 43 people were killed. Footage broadcast by international media showed the military and police had locked down the streets outside the affected buildings. The organization responsible for the attack hasn’t been identified and the Taliban denied its involvement.
But footage from the following morning revealed a Chinese-made armored vehicle used by an army unit. A thorough analysis of its external characteristics reveals it’s a BaoJi SVM Tiger. These protected trucks are designed for internal security roles and have been delivered to several countries.
The same imagery of the Afghan Tiger showed it had a roof mounted W85 heavy machine gun on an armored cupola. The gunner behind it wore a distinctive maroon beret common among the Afghan National Army Commando Corps, an elite formation trained for counter-terrorism and kitted like their NATO counterparts. A soldier on guard near the Tiger was carrying an M16 too, which is further evidence the army commandos had a role in eliminating the terrorists who attacked the Ministry of Public Works.
The deployment of Chinese armored vehicles with Afghanistan’s army shouldn’t be too surprising. A significant amount of its arsenal is Chinese-made, anyway. Furthermore, Beijing and Kabul have struck agreements for limited deliveries of security assistance. But the specifics of these deals are often never revealed to the public. Neither is there evidence of Afghanistan’s defense ministry ordering the Tiger manufactured by BaoJi since it’s so reliant on the US’s generosity.
China does transfer weapons and vehicles like the Tiger to countries it deems allies or countries that are struggling with internal strife. Bolivia, for example, is an eager recipient of Chinese military aid and now owns multiple Tiger 4×4’s after it signed a cooperation agreement several years ago. Neighboring Tajikistan, whose security forces are burdened with protecting a long and rugged southern border, received a few BaoJi Tigers as gifts from a worried China.
The BaoJi Tiger can seat 11 occupants, including the driver, and is built to resist direct fire from AK-47’s. Bulletproof panels serve as its windshield and side windows. External cameras, smoke grenade dischargers, and strobe lights are among its optional countermeasures. Aside from its circular turret for the main armament there are four smaller hatches on its roof. These allow the passengers to better observe their surroundings. How many Tigers are in the Afghan military’s vehicular fleet isn’t known yet.
Chinese-made weapons and equipment have a long history in Afghanistan. Vast amounts of assault rifles, anti-tank weapons, machine guns, mortars, and portable rocket launchers were transferred to the Mujahideen guerillas during the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989). To this day, the Type 56 assault rifle–a Chinese Kalashnikov analog–and the Type 69 rocket grenade launcher are commonly found with both terrorist groups and government security forces. So widespread are these weapons, in fact, US and NATO forces have been at the receiving end of the Taliban’s (Chinese-made) recoilless rifles and short-range rockets.
For the Afghan army’s commandos to adopt vehicles like the Tiger is proof China values the Afghan government’s role in defeating regional terrorism. It’s a positive sign that Beijing wants stability in Central Asia, whose less than democratic governments are now viable customers for its military exports. After 17 years of war, however, it helps that newer armored personnel carriers are arriving in Afghanistan. Kabul’s soldiers and police only drive so many battered Humvees and MRAPs that don’t have enough spare parts between them.