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India Is Still Sending Arms To Afghanistan

October 23, 2019

Via Indian Embassy in Kabul.

Last week saw the handover of two Mi-24V Hind gunships to the Afghan defense ministry. During the October 15 event the Indian ambassador signed a memorandum and shook hands with Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid. The transfer of these Hinds follows a previous delivery in May, giving the Afghan military four refurbished gunships. The Indian embassy did mention in its Twitter account how these helicopters are replacements for an earlier batch “gifted” to the defense ministry between 2015 and 2016. It’s unclear if Afghanistan’s fledgling air force can now boast eight gunships or just four, since it’s implied the other half are out of commission.

The Mi-24V is an older variant of the venerable Hind. Not to be confused with the Mi-35M, which is the brand name for a streamlined export model offered by Russia, the Mi-24V is an unbeatable combination of armor, firepower, and speed. Its basic weaponry is a four barrel 12.7 mm gatling gun underneath its cockpit and four hardpoints to carry rocket pods. There are two more hardpoints at the ends of its wing stubs for air-to-surface Shturm anti-tank missiles. Each Hind is powered by a pair of Klimov turboshaft engines whose combined output exceeds 4,000 horsepower with a top speed reaching 335 kilometers per hour; making it the world’s fastest attack helicopter.

All Hind-series gunships fit three crew (pilot, copilot, and flight engineer) and have space in their bellies for eight passengers. The original Mi-24A/B featured an angular turret and entered service by 1970 but was only identified by NATO in 1974. It wasn’t until the arrival of Mi-24D that it assumed its recognizable bulbous stepped cockpit whose armor is impervious to small arms fire. Hind gunships remain an attractive acquisition for militaries everywhere and mark a huge boost in airpower when compared to other armed helicopters. As a testament to its best qualities, numerous post-Soviet and the few remaining Communist states (with the exception of China) still keep their Hinds operational.

For Afghanistan to receive Mi-24V’s from a trusted partner such as India is deeply symbolic. The Hind earned a fearsome reputation during the Soviet-Afghan War providing air support for ground troops. Even in the face of heavy losses it was passed on to the Afghan army that tried holding the country together from the late 1980s until the Taliban seized power in 1997. Thanks to continuous Soviet assistance, the military of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was quite impressive on paper–attrition and poor maintenance did take their toll. By 1990 its total strength, besides the interior ministry and militias, reached 100,000 men. Its arsenal boasted almost a thousand medium tanks, 1,400 tracked and wheeled APCs, nearly 3,000 artillery pieces, an impressive 200 fixed wing combat aircraft, and several dozen armed helicopters. For a brief period, Kabul had a collection of road mobile Scud B and FROG rockets to deter a belligerent Pakistan.

The Mi-24V’s that arrived this year aren’t from India’s own semi-retired fleet of Hinds though. In 2018 details surfaced of a deal involving Belarus where it transferred surplus gunships to India for delivery. To its credit, India is maintaining its reputation as an all-weather friend for troubled Afghanistan. For the past 40 years, Delhi has done what it could to assist Kabul in any matter. During the chaotic civil war period from 1989 to 1997 it provided the Tajik-led opposition of the late Ahmad Shah Massoud with logistical and medical support. Weapons deliveries were a minor priority then but, if the right conditions prevail, it’s possible for India to become a major supplier for today’s Afghan National Army (ANA).

India may never be compelled to intervene and prop up the Afghan state on its own but its warm ties with the country’s leadership are enduring. This serves two purposes: As a means to diminish Pakistan’s nefarious role in Afghanistan and for enlarging India’s footprint in Central Asia, where it’s always looking for allies.

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