China will train Afghan troops on its soil, ambassador says

September 6, 2018

Afghan National Army soldiers stand guard at the entrance gate of Marshal Fahim military academy in Kabul, Afghanistan January 29, 2018. REUTERS

China will train Afghan troops on Chinese soil, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Beijing said, describing the military cooperation as an effort to fight al Qaeda and Islamic State militants bent on attacking China from its western neighbor.

Afghanistan has also requested that China provide Afghan security forces with combat helicopters, Ambassador Janan Mosazai told Reuters in an interview.

Beijing last month dismissed reports that Chinese troops would be stationed in its war-torn neighbor, after it agreed to help Afghanistan set up a “mountain brigade” in the rugged Wakhan Corridor linking the two countries.

“But yes, there will be some training required, obviously, and that will take place in China,” Mosazai said in the interview on Tuesday.

The Chinese military had promised to supply two fixed-wing transport aircraft for medical evacuation purposes, he added, and crews for the planes were already training in China.

“Those are in the pipeline, and we hope they will be delivered to Afghanistan, to our national security and defense forces, soon,” Mosazai said. “We have requested that they provide combat vehicles, combat helicopters, also air capabilities and reconnaissance.”

Mosazai said China’s response towards the request for the helicopters had been “positive”, and that Kabul wanted Beijing to provide the capabilities or the “grant assistance” so Afghanistan could purchase them.

China’s Defence Ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The provision of arms to Afghanistan marks a gradual evolution for Beijing, which had previously offered non-lethal assistance while promising to play a “huge” commercial role in the country’s economic development, a pledge complicated by the security situation there.

Mosazai did not elaborate on financial details or types of vehicles under consideration, but said the helicopters being sought were most likely to be older Russian or Soviet-made equipment, such as the MI-35.

China has stepped up “direct military assistance to Afghanistan”, including providing small arms and logistics and equipment support, since the two countries established a military dialogue in 2016, the ambassador said.

Beijing has confirmed its backing for the Afghan defense forces struggling against a Taliban insurgency that has taken swathes of territory in recent years, but it has offered few details.

The Afghan air force, trained and assisted by NATO advisers, has slowly gained strength, but remains too small to meet the needs of its security forces. The United States has planned to help replace Afghanistan’s aging fleet of Russian Mi-17 helicopters with U.S.-made UH-60 Black Hawks.