BEIJING: China will train Afghan troops on Chinese soil, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Beijing said, describing the military cooperation as an effort to fight members of the Al Qaeda and militant Islamic State (IS) group bent on attacking China from its western neighbour.

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

Beijing last month dismissed reports that Chinese troops would be stationed in its war-torn neighbour, 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,” Mr 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 defence forces, soon,” he said. “We have requested that they provide combat vehicles, combat helicopters, also air capabilities and reconnaissance.”

Mr 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.

Mr 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.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2018

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