Afghan vice president accuses Pak Air Force of trying to help Taliban

NEW DELHI: Afghan vice president Amrullah Saleh on Thursday accused the Pakistan Air Force of warning Afghan security forces that it would retaliate against any move to dislodge Taliban fighters in the strategic border region of Spin Boldak.

Saleh, a former spy chief who has survived more than one assassination attempt by the Taliban and is a trenchant critic of Pakistan, made the accusation in a tweet late on Thursday.

“Breaking: Pakistan air force has issued official warning to the Afghan Army and Air Force that any move to dislodge the Taliban from Spin Boldak area will be faced and repelled by the Pakistan Air Force. Pak air force is now providing close air support to Taliban in certain areas,” he tweeted.

As doubts were expressed on social media about the accusation, Saleh doubled down on his contention. He said in another tweet that he was “ready to share evidence” about the warning from the Pakistani military to the Afghan side. He added that Afghan aircraft “as far as 10 kilometers frm Spin Boldak R warned 2 back off or face air to air missiles”.

There was no immediate response to the allegation from the Pakistani side.

More than anything, the allegation reflected the deep-seated lack of trust between the Afghan government led by President Ashraf Ghani and the Pakistan government and security establishment.

Taliban fighters captured a crucial crossing on the Pakistan border in Spin Boldak region on Wednesday. The crossing, which connects to Chaman in Balochistan province on the Pakistani side, is a key source of revenue for the Afghan government and a crucial post for cross-border travel and trade.

Afghan security forces said on Thursday that they had retaken the border crossing but this was denied by the Taliban.

As part of a strategy to capture territory across Afghanistan amid the rapid drawdown of US troops, the Taliban has captured border crossings with Iran, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in recent weeks.

It is not entirely unheard of for the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to provide support to the Taliban and foreign fighters in Afghanistan. After US forces invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, PAF transport aircraft carried out several sorties from the northern Afghan city of Kunduz to airlift hundreds of Pakistani and foreign terrorists who fought alongside the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

The sorties over two days in November 2001, which were dubbed the “airlift of evil” by the Western media, were first spotted by Indian intelligence agencies. At the time, Pakistan was believed to have hundreds of military advisers in Afghanistan helping the Taliban.