US Negotiating Aircraft Deal With Central Asian Countries for Afghanistan Leverage: Report

The US administration is quietly working on a trade of nearly 50 military aircraft with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in exchange for security assistance inside Afghanistan, Politico revealed.

Afghan Air Force pilots flew the US-donated aircraft to the two neighboring Central Asian countries in August last year to avoid them being captured by the Taliban.

The estimated 46 aircraft included C-208 utility aircraft, A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft, as well as Mi-17, Mi-25, and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, according to satellite images analyzed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. 

The fate of aircraft has been in limbo since, with the militant organization insisting the planes belong to Afghanistan and should be returned. The Uzbek government, however, has refused the demand, saying that the planes belong to the US.

Intelligence Sharing on Terror Networks

The US is planning to give “a number of” aircraft from the lot to the countries in exchange for an agreement on border security and counterterrorism, the outlet wrote, citing an unnamed official.

According to the outlet, the possible agreement could include greater intelligence sharing between the countries and the US on terrorist networks in Afghanistan. In the long run, it could involve the stationing of American troops and aircraft in the countries.

“If I give you an airplane, then I call you and say, ‘Hey, can you tell that guy who has a cousin in Afghanistan to go look at something — that might be the nature of the relationship. That’s a hypothetical,” the outlet quoted a senior Pentagon official as saying.

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“It might not be that I want to fly from there, but it might be, do I have access to networks of people that have access into Afghanistan?”

Countries Express Interest

The US lost leverage inside the South Asian country following the collapse of the Karzai government. It relies on Middle Eastern bases thousands of miles away to conduct over-the-horizon strikes in Afghanistan.

Citing a senior Pentagon official, the outlet wrote that the countries are “certainly very interested” in keeping those aircraft. However, the issue of providing military bases is “not on the table” right now.

Past Cooperation With US

Uzbekistan and Tajikistan share borders with Afghanistan and have shared military facilities with the US in the past.

Uzbekistan leased its Karshi-Khanabad air base to the US after 9/11 for military operations inside Afghanistan. However, internal unrest and Russian pressure ended the agreement in 2005. 

Moreover, the country’s constitution doesn’t allow the government to let any foreign military bases in the country’s territory anymore, according to Politico.

Tajikistan also cooperated with the US following the 9/11 attacks, allowing US Air Force fighters to refuel at the country’s airports. 

However, Dushanbe has pivoted towards Moscow and Beijing since, relying heavily on the two neighboring giants for economic and trade relations, despite maintaining cooperative relations with the US on “counterterrorism, border security, and training.”