I remember how I used to listen to various NATO officials complain about how member nations were not sending enough helicopters to Afghanistan. Now it appears that the chickens have come home to roost: The Canadian media is reporting that the Canadian Ministry of Defence has quietly leased a bunch of Russian helicopters to use in southern Afghanistan.
My first thought was this was to fool the locals. But I don't think it would fool the Taliban, who know their Russian helicopters. Canadian Navy Lt. Kelly Rozenberg-Payne said that Canadian forces in Afghanistan simply needed some additional vertical lift: "The (operational) tempo within the air wing became very great and it was just assessed by commanders on the ground that they needed additional platforms to help move troops around," she said.
My guess is that because both the Afghan and Pakistani militaries use the Mi-17, this makes it more convenient to fly NATO forces across the border and into the FATA as necessary, with lots of plausible deniability, especially if they are flown at night and no one gets around to painting a lot of markings on the aircraft. That would explain why, as the Canadian report puts it, "details were kept off the MERX web-site, which formally lists government procurement competitions, and no news release was issued about the new choppers, which have been in use since the spring."
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Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.