NATO forces in Afghanistan will receive a batch of Russia’s Mi-17 helicopters that were designed especially for the mountainous area and desert climate of this country. Russia and NATO are about to close the deal on the joint delivery of 21 Mi-17 combat helicopters to Afghanistan. Russia’s Ambassador to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said that it would be an “unprecedented action, when Russia and NATO provide assistance to a third country.”
Russia and NATO have been in talks on the subject since the beginning of this year. The alliance originally wanted Russia to deliver the helicopters to Kabul free of charge. Moscow was pursuing a commercial deal. The number of helicopters was increased to 32 at the end of March but then decreased to 21. Russia is ready to sell a part of this batch and provide several helicopters free of charge as its contribution to the military operation in Afghanistan.
The deal stipulates the supplies of fuel, armament systems, spare parts and pilot training. Russia will be in charge of these issues. Most likely, all details will be clarified next week at the session of the Russia-NATO Council on July 16.
Russia has delivered its combat helicopters to NATO members before. The current deal is special, though: the two sides have never joined forces to arm third countries.
Afghanistan is looking forward to the decision of the NATO command. A military official of the country said that the nation’s Air Force was in urgent need of both cargo and combat helicopters.
“We asked our partners at NATO to send us the Russian helicopters, ultimately Mi-17. They suit our mountainous conditions better, and our pilots are familiar with them. Everyone was flying them during the 1970s. I personally learned to fly them in the USSR and I know what I am saying,” Abdul Wahab Vardak, the Air Force Commander of Afghanistan said.
The amount of the helicopter deal has not bee exposed. Dmitry Rogozin strongly refused to give out the number having referred to commercial secrecy. The export price of one new Mi-17 chopper makes up $12-15 million. The contract may therefore be evaluated at approximately $300 million.
It was previously reported that US lawmakers did not want NATO to purchase the helicopters from Russia and insisted the hardware should be acquired from the United States instead.
The US Department of Defense has already purchased 31 Mi-17 helicopters, having spent $648 million. Next year, the department intends to purchase ten helicopters more, The Washington Post said.
US Brigadier General Michael Boera believes that Russian-made Mi-17 choppers must make a half of Afghanistan’s Air Force. The general said that Mi-17 was a perfect helicopter for Afghanistan.
"We've got to get beyond the fact that it's Russian ... It works well in Afghanistan," the newspaper quoted Boera as saying.