The US military's purchase of Russian-made helicopters for Afghanistan's air force is drawing resistance in
Congress, The Washington Post reported Saturday.
The Mi-17 helicopters have been a mainstay of the Afghan military. US military officials said the aircraft is key to rebuilding the Afghan air force because many older pilots are familiar with the craft and retraining on US-built helicopters is time-consuming and difficult, DPA reported.
Richard Shelby, a Republican, and Christopher Dodd, a Democrat, are pushing the Pentagon to reconsider and buy American- made aircraft.
"The Mi-17 programme either has uncoordinated oversight or simply none at all," Shelby was quoted as saying. "The results have led to massive waste, cost overruns, schedule delays, safety concerns and major delivery problems."
The preference by the US military for Russian Mi-17s has a certain irony. During the Cold War, the United States armed Afghan rebels with missiles to shoot down the Mi-17s flown by the Soviet occupation force.
The Pentagon has spent 648 million dollars to buy or refurbish 31 Mi-17 transport helicopters for the Afghan National Army Air Corps, the Post reported. Plans call for the purchase of another 10 next year and dozens more over the coming decade.
US President Barack Obama wants to start withdrawing US troops by the summer of 2011. US military officials said they believe the Afghan air force won't be able to operate independently until 2016, even sticking with the Mi-17s.
"We've got to get beyond the fact that it's Russian," Brigadier General
Michael Boera, the US Air Force official working to rebuild the Afghan air force, was quoted as saying. "... It works well in Afghanistan."