Important but overlooked news this week: the U.S. command in Afghanistan has asked India to step up military aid to Afghan forces. India provided four attack helicopters to the Afghan military in Dec. 2015; the U.S. and the Afghans want more, as well as spare parts for Russian-made military equipment, to be used in part against the Islamist network built up by Pakistan called the Haqqanis.
Every aspect of this cries: “Proxy War.” To New Delhi came General John Nicholson, a four-star general serving as the commander in charge of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. When I was in Afghanistan in 2011 while serving on the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, I met Nicholson’s predecessor, and saw his immense scope of military and diplomatic responsibility. Who met with Nicholson: India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar, and Defense Secretary G. Mohan Kumar. This is a joint war command for deciding India’s course in the proxy war.
Second, a very ingenious opening wartime mode of supply has been arranged. The Afghan Air Force still uses MI-25 Russian attack copters (among others), because many of their air and ground crews trained on copters inherited in the 1980s from the puppet Russian regime, for which parts are scarce. As General Nicholson said: “The Afghans have asked for more of these helicopters. There is an immediate need for more. When these aircraft come in, they immediately get into the fight.” Note twice the term “immediate.” When the U.S. military commander in charge, the four-star general, says “immediate” twice, he is telling his troops that their butts will be in a sling unless it gets done yesterday, if not earlier.
General Nicholson went on: “We are building the Afghan Air Forces as a critical component of security. That [the Afghan air force] is built on several airframes. Some are older Russian models integrating newer ones. We need more aircraft, and we are looking at how we can meet that need.”
Nicholson also said that military training by India to thousands of Afghan security personnel had helped that country in significantly enhancing its military capability, which is in tune with the objective of NATO and the U.S. I saw the problem, going to Kandahar in 2011 to review training there being done by the U.S.-paid contractor Dyncorp. A large part of the Afghan recruits are, bluntly, illiterate. Training has to be elementary and complete. Do not get me wrong, the Afghan trainees are brave, great armed police and soldiers. Often they have excellent fighting spirit, they know guns like we know cars, and frequently they lost close relatives in fighting that has gone on nonstop since the Soviets took over in the 1970s. But they need an enormous amount of training. It looks like India is shouldering some of that key part of the proxy war.
It went almost unnoticed that this followed Prime Minister Modi and President Obama agreeing not so long ago that the two nations should move against terrorist groups, especially the ones based or helped by the Pakistani ISI (the powerful intelligence command). Sure enough, just as Modi and Obama had said at the top civilian level, this new announcement by Nicholson and the top Indian defense officials was expressly directed not only at the Haqqani network, and Islamic State, but also at Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for 2008 terrorist slaughter in Mumbai, and Jaish-I-Mohammed. Nicholson noted these all had sanctuaries in Pakistan.
As I wrote recently, the U.S. cut off $300 million in aid for the Pakistani military due to its support of the Haqqani network, which has spilled so much American blood.