Taliban to establish an air force
The Taliban has been in control of Afghanistan since the withdrawal of the U.S. forces, and is currently trying to form an air unit that will use helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft left in some bases to achieve combat aerial capabilities. This is according to the Israeli-based MEMRI institute.
Israeli experts say the Taliban is seeking help from China to achieve aerial combat capabilities using aircraft left behind by the Americans. Dr. Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli expert on Islamic issues says that the Chinese want to put their hand on the wealth of natural resources in Afghanistan.
Afghanistan has over 1,400 mineral fields& containing barite, chromite, coal, copper, gold, iron ore, lead, natural gas, petroleum, precious and semi-precious stones, salt, sulphur, lithium, talc, and zinc, among many other minerals. Gemstones include high-quality emerald, lapis lazuli, red garnet, and ruby.
Kedar added that the Chinese also want to strengthen its influence on neighbouring Afghanistan. "The Taliban may use the new air unit to attack American targets but they will weigh the retaliation expected for such attacks. The Chinese involvement in this country may also reflect on the Taliban plans to use this capability to attack U.S. interstates."
The MEMRI institute is exploring the Middle East and South Asia by providing timely translations of Arabic, Farsi, Urdu-Pashtu, Dari, Turkish, Russian, and Chinese media. These translations form the basis of original analyses of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends.
The Taliban has also accessed the Afghan inventory of aircraft and is trying to persuade Afghan pilots who fled to neighbouring countries to return.
According to the MEMRI report, since the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (the Taliban organization) took over the country in August, media reports have indicated that they have taken control of military hardware left by the U.S. and other NATO member states. Now the jihadi group is set to run the Afghan air force.
"There have been concerns that Pakistan, a major patron of the Islamic Emirate, and China, which has trained Taliban fighters in Xinjiang province, would seek to obtain the military hardware left behind by the United States in Afghanistan."
According to the report, social media reports emerged in November 2021 that military hardware was being transported from Afghanistan to Pakistan. There is unease among Afghans about Afghan military equipment going to Pakistan. "The smuggling of military tanks and weapons should be stopped. The equipment belongs to the people," said Shukor Shah, a Kabul resident.
However, Saeed Khosti, spokesman of the Taliban-led interior ministry of Afghanistan, dismissed these reports, saying: "We completely reject the smuggling of military equipment into Pakistan. No one will be allowed to do it."
The report says that on August 15, the day Kabul fell, some Afghan pilots and maintenance workers, fearing for their lives, flew their planes out of Afghanistan into neighbouring countries.
Ataullah Omari – the commander of Al-Fatah Corps in Balkh province, a jihadi specialist force under the Islamic Emirate – said on December 4: "Those aircraft transferred abroad have been returned to the country. As a result of continued efforts, some of the aircraft were brought back to Afghanistan."
The MEMRI report says that while addressing a meeting of Kabul airport personnel on December 3, Mullah Mohammad Yaqoob, the Taliban's acting defence minister and son of late Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, announced that the Islamic Emirate will establish an air force. "We will establish an air force that will not need the support of the U.S., India, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan," Yaqoob said.
For the first time since the Taliban took power, the Taliban-led Afghan air force conducted a military maneuver in the northern province of Balkh on November 29, according to an Afghan media report.
Amanuddin Mansoor, a commander of the air force, said: "In the near future we will collect information from all the airports to see how many active and damaged choppers we have, and also how many pilots we have who are willing to work and how many are not. We request that those who have left the country return and serve their people."
According to the MEMRI report on manoeuvers in Balkh province, the Islamic Emirate's pilots used MI-17 and MD helicopters that the U.S. had provided to the air force of the previous Afghan government. A media report noted that a number of the former government's air force staff, especially technical personnel, are now working for the air force under the Islamic Emirate in Balkh province. Mohammad Ikram Stanikzai, an air force officer, confirmed: "Our engineers resolve technical problems and are working here to serve the country."
According to the War on the Rocks website, having cultivated a good relationship with the Taliban for the past decade, and with a recent high-profile official visit by a Taliban delegation led by the group’s number two leader Abdul Ghani Baradar on July 28, Beijing sees itself as having finally bet on the right horse in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban’s takeover of the country, China has demonstrated an unprecedented level of positive reception, political endorsement, and diplomatic support of the Taliban. However, there are ferocious debates ongoing in China as to what the best strategy is moving forward vis-à-vis& its poor, unstable, and destabilizing neighbour.
In recent months, Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is bluffing about its nuclear program. Israel also told the U.S. that the Taliban in Afghanistan is reorganizing and will use is as a base for terror acts, mainly against American targets.
Arie Egozi is a defence analyst based in Tel Aviv.