US gives 16 Mi-17 helicopters procured for Afghanistan to Ukraine: SIGAR

The United States is giving Ukraine 16 Mi-17 helicopters that Washington had procured for the former Afghanistan government, a US watchdog agency said Wednesday.

According to the latest Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) report, the US Department of Defense (DOD) notified Congress in January that it intended to give the Ukrainian government five of the Russian-built helicopters, which had been undergoing maintenance at a Ukrainian facility.

“Ukraine accepted these excess defense articles on March 11,”SIGAR stated in its quarterly report submitted to US lawmakers this week.

“In mid-April, President (Joe) Biden announced a military assistance package to Ukraine that included an additional 11 Mi-17 helicopters that had been scheduled for Afghanistan,” the report added.

This comes after Uzbekistan authorities said last week that dozens of aircraft flown into their country in August last year, during the collapse of the former government, belong to the United States and that these aircraft will not be returned to the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (IEA) government.

Afghan air force personnel flew almost 50 helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to Uzbekistan in mid-August as former president Ashraf Ghani fled the country.

Several more aircraft and Black Hawk helicopters were also taken to neighboring Tajikistan.

The IEA has however repeatedly requested that these aircraft are returned to Afghanistan.

But in a recent interview, Ismatulla Irgashev, a senior presidential adviser, said the aircraft would not be going back to Kabul.

“The U.S. government paid for them,” said Irgashev, his nation’s most senior diplomat dealing with Afghan matters. “It funded the previous Afghan government. So, we believe it is totally up to Washington how to deal with them.

“We’ve kept this military equipment in agreement with the U.S. and have told the Taliban (IEA) so.”

Little has been said since about the issue, in part because of the sensitivity of the issue in Uzbek-Afghan relations and the reluctance of officials on all sides to discuss it, VOA reported last week.

But US defense officials confirmed to VOA that both Uzbekistan and Tajikistan have no plans to give the aircraft to the IEA.

In their latest report, SIGAR also confirmed reports that the fall of the Western-backed Afghan government last August gave the country’s new IEA rulers access to more than $7 billion worth of US Department of Defense equipment.

“DOD estimates that $7.12 billion worth of ANDSF equipment remained in Afghanistan in varying states of repair when US forces withdrew in August 2021,” the report said in reference to the US-trained and funded former Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.

SIGAR also stated, citing the Pentagon, that $18.6 billion worth of ANDSF equipment was procured through the US Afghan Security Forces Fund (ASFF) since 2005 — not the $80 billion reported by some media. Much of that equipment was destroyed during combat operation, it added.

The equipment includes aircraft, vehicles, munitions, guns and communication equipment, as well as other gear, “in varying states of repair,” according to Pentagon spokesperson Army Major Rob Lodewick.

“Nearly all equipment used by US military forces in Afghanistan was either retrograded or destroyed prior to our withdrawal,” Lodewick said in a statement last week.

The SIGAR report quoted the IEA air force commander and former Afghan Air Force (AAF) personnel as saying that about 4,300 members, half of the former AAF, have joined the IEA’s air force, including 33 pilots.

“Only a fraction of the 81 aircraft at the Kabul military airport are functional, including six repaired UH-60 Blackhawks,” the report said.