KABUL (Reuters) - The United States will provide six helicopter gunships to Afghanistan’s fledgling air force in August this year, part of a plan to supply 186 aircraft to the country, the head of the Afghan air force said on Thursday.
The shipments, which will come in several batches to be completed by 2012, do not include jet fighters for the country where U.S. soldiers form the bulk of NATO and coalition troops in the fight against Taliban insurgents.
“We will be supplied with 186 aircraft, such as reconnaissance planes, helicopters, helicopter gunships and fixed-wing planes,” General Abdul Wahab Qahraman told Reuters.
“America will provide us with all these aircraft and we are engaged in discussions about it, but we will not have jet fighters before 2012 and God knows what happens after that.”
Washington will donate the aircraft to Afghanistan as part of its multi-billion dollar assistance effort, Qahraman said.
By 2012, Afghanistan will have full control over all of its air bases, except for Bagram, the major former Soviet base north of Kabul which is the hub for U.S.-led troops in the country.
The United States also sponsors the training of 4,550 Afghan air force personnel such as pilots and engineers.
The six helicopters to arrive in August will arrive from the Czech Republic, Qahraman said.
The Afghan Air Corps will be supplied with Russian built MI-17 transport helicopters, and MI-24 and MI-35 attack helicopters similar to those used against Afghan mujahideen during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation, a U.S. general said.
“They are quite reliable and their performance in this environment at high altitude and high temperature is very good and their reliability is very good,” said Major-General Robert Durbin, the U.S. officer in charge of training Afghan forces.
Afghanistan’s army disintegrated in 1992 after the overthrow of the Soviet-backed government by Western-funded mujahideen groups.
The country’s air force, army, police and security agencies had until then been trained and equipped by the Soviet Union.
Now the United States and other allies are helping rebuild, train and equip Afghan forces.
Afghanistan has more than 120,000 members of the armed forces now and the training of its army will be completed by 2008.
NATO and U.S.-led troops say they will withdraw their troops from Afghanistan once its own security forces are able to stand on their feet.
There are some 50,000 foreign troops stationed in Afghanistan, battling the Taliban and their Islamic allies.
U.S.-led troops invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and overthrew the Taliban government after it refused to hand over al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the September 11 attacks.
Additional reporting by Jon Hemming