Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov requests US explanation of 'unidentified helicopters' in Afghanistan
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that Moscow is awaiting the US’s comments on the fact that there are helicopters flying in militant-controlled regions of Afghanistan, RIA Novosti reports. According to Lavrov, “the leaders of several Afghan provinces” have reported on such helicopters.
“… the unidentified helicopters are in all likelihood helicopters that NATO forces have some kind of connection to, and that carry out flights in the regions where the militants are based. Currently nobody can explain these flights to us, and in general they are trying to avoid responding to these legitimate questions,” the minister said during a press conference following a meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif in Moscow.
Lavrov says that Russia is concerned by the growing influence of Islamic State militants in Afghanistan. Moscow has “serious suspicions” concerning how NATO relates to this threat, he added.
“Thus we are very alarmed by what is happening in Afghanistan,” the minister emphasized.
At the end of May 2017, Lavrov said that “Afghan parliamentarians” had asked for explanations concerning the flights, which they claim involved US-produced helicopters without identifying markings in militant-controlled regions. At that stage Lavrov claimed there was evidence that the helicopters “dumped something in these territories”, landing and then taking off.
On February 13 this year, US State Secretary Rex Tillerson warned that Islamic State militants are trying to establish themselves in Afghanistan, the Philippines and North Africa. In August last year, Tillerson accused Russia of supplying the militants with weapons in Afghanistan. The Russian Foreign Ministry denied these charges, calling them attempts to “slander Russia”.
At the start of February, the US Defense Ministry advisor told senators that the budget expenditure on the operation in Afghanistan would amount to $45 billion, of which roughly $13 million would go to maintaining the US contingent there.
The US and other countries (including NATO forces) began a military operation in Afghanistan in 2001, following the September 11 terrorist acts. The US-led coalition fought against both the Taliban government and Al-Qaeda forces. Operation Enduring Freedom was carried out until 2014, after which NATO officially ceased fighting in the region. The US remains active in Afghanistan as part of the new Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, and NATO is assisting the Afghan government forces as part of the non-combat mission Resolute Support.