Afghan Forces NATO Forces

Cold War Redux: US Banning Russian Sales To Afghanistan

Apparently it’s like 1979 all over again, because the US won’t let the Afghans buy its military gear from Moscow. Why? Because Syria.

If you’re going to go to war with Syria, at some point you’ve got to expect that the Americans are going to take except to an action like that, and they’ll want you to knock that shit off. Unless of course you’re Putin and your hubris is second only to your inability to find shirts you can wear. In which case you’re going to make it clear to the listening world how unfair it is that you can’t sell guns and ammo to Kabul.

At least that’s the story being reported by TASS, quoting the director of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Asia Department, Zamir Kabulov, in a recent interview. He claims that foreign donors are banning the Afghans from buying Russian weapons. And he singles out Putin’s favorite punching bag: ‘murca.

“One of the main ones is the actual ban by Afghanistan’s foreign financial donors, the US in the first place, on spending the funds provided to Kabul to purchase the necessary weapons and other military gear from Russia.”

It’s a short read, and if brevity is the soul of wit, then a soundbite is the soul of counterproductive policy. And it’s a policy that’s gone full 1979 Soviet bloc remix style only in the last few years. Because there was a time when the Americans were making it rain all kinds of defense dollars to purchase Mi-17 helicopters for the fledgling Afghan Air Force (AAF).

Then folks like Senator Blumenthal got involved. Why? Because Senator Blumenthal cares about the people of Syria. And his crusade to stop buying Russian helicopters for the AAF was unrelated to Connecticut’s being the proud manufacturing home of Sikorsky helicopters. No, people like Senator Blumenthal want to block the evil empire that is Rosoboronexport, the Russian government’s defense company, from shipping weapons to Syria. And so the dark side must be punished by taking away all the helicopter sales.

Which means the AAF is taking on a certain, well, American flavor: while the main rotary wing asset is still the Mi-17 (which the US bought a lot of from the Russians before Putin started turning Syria into a cricket pitch), most of the inventory comes either directly from US companies (the MD-530 “Little Bird” gunships), or from US companies (Sierra Nevada Corporation) partnering with a Brazilian enterprise (Embraer) to build A-29 Tucano aircraft in America’s trailer park (Florida).

Throw in some Cessnas, a Hercules or two, a war that looks like it’s going to last only slightly longer than the War and Peace audiobook read by a Speak and Spell, and American defense contractors can bank on a steady income from the graveyard of rational procurement for a while yet. Even though the Pentagon and the White House are trying to go around some of those restrictions with the occasional donation from places like New Delhi. Which, last year, gave the AAF some VERY Russian Mi-35 gunships.

That deal does a couple of things: gets around the restriction on purchasing weapons from Moscow, beefs up the aerial fires capability of the AAF, and allows India to throw a finger in the air in Islamabad’s general direction.

Win. Win. Win.

If Putin would stand down in places like Syria, it would free the Americans up to buy Russian equipment again. Which is what’s best for the AAF and the ANDSF all around. The Mi-17 is purpose-built for the flying conditions in Afghanistan, and given how many of the countries in the neighborhood fly it and similar airframes, it’s not like it’s going to be hard to get parts.

But until Putin stops pretending like the wall never came down in Germany and continues to flex his own imperial muscle, this situation will not change. The Afghans will continue to be supplied with American equipment, with its massive logistical tail and super shiny tough-to-maintain approach to all things war. And the only winner there is whoever’s cashing that defense contract check. 

Also published on Medium.