By Mrityunjoy Kumar Jha
New Delhi, June 22: Talibans ambitious plan to rebuild the Afghan air force has suffered a massive blow after the United States made it plain that the military planes and helicopters that had Afghan pilots had flown out of the country when the Pashtun-dominated group had taken over Kabul will not be returned.
“The aircraft would definitely not be returned to Afghanistan because they do not belong to the Taliban,” said General Michael Erik Kurilla, the US Central Command commander on Monday during his visit to Tajikistan.
The US military’s top commander overseeing Central Asia said that the talks are being held with the Government of Tajikistan to determine the best way to effectively use and maintain these planes.
“Our hope is to be able to hand over some or all of the aircraft to the Tajik government. I do not have a timeline on when this will occur, but we are working hard to make this happen,” Reuters reported General Michael Kurilla as saying.
In case Tajikistan integrates these planes in its arsenal, it is likely that US personnel, including maintenance staff, will be deployed in the Central Asian state — a move that can help Washington to regain a foothold in the region. US presence and influence suffered a big blow in August 2021, when the Taliban overran Kabul, forcing American forces to stage an unseemly exit from the country.
There have been reports that since it troops left Afghanistan last August the US has been desperate to establish a new base in Tajikistan to increase its “over-the-horizon” ability to track from afar and strike emerging terrorist threats.
“Their top three concerns are: Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Afghanistan,” The Washington Post quoted Michael Erik Kurilla as saying, adding that the US will not attempt to bigfoot countries uncertain about American staying power and unwilling to offend Russia. Russia’s 201 motorised division has been deployed in Tajikistan, but Dushanbe may feel insecure if this division or its parts are deployed by Moscow in the Ukrainian theatre.
It may be recalled, more than 100 US trained Afghan air force pilots had flown out of the country with their families to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan aboard more than 60 aircraft, including A-29 light attack planes, Black Hawk helicopters, C-208 utility aircraft, and Mi-17, Mi-25, and UH-60 helicopters. just days before the Taliban took over Kabul on August 15.
Since then, the Taliban have been warning Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to immediately return Afghan planes and choppers.
“We may relatively be weaker than those of our neighbour countries but we are not cowardly and will take into account every single spare part of our planes and helicopters. I ask them respectfully to return our planes and helicopters and not question our patience any further and not to force us to take all possible retaliatory steps,” warned Mullah Yaqoob, the Defence Minister of the Taliban. But Tajikistan and Uzbekistan had refused to return these aircraft as they were “donated” to the previous Afghan government by the US.
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