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CHINA FILLS AFGHAN VACUUM

As the U.S. military winds down its multibillion-dollar operations in Afghanistan, China’s military has begun moving in.

A delegation of senior Chinese military officials visited Kabul in March and signed a memorandum of understanding that outlines plans for $1.6 million in Chinese military assistance to Afghanistan.

According to Kabul national television, the Chinese will provide education and training, logistics support and heavy weapons spare parts as a first step in military support.

The Afghan leadership is said to be critical of U.S. plans to send its leftover military hardware, worth an estimated $7 billion, to Pakistan as part of its withdrawal. The Afghans want the hardware for their security forces.

Relations between Washington and Kabul have been soured by President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a bilateral security agreement.

Afghan leaders, including Defense Minister Besmellah Mohammadi, have said the U.S. military equipment is needed for Afghanistan’s fight against the Taliban insurgency.

The failure to provide the leftover U.S. military goods has been criticized by Afghan leaders who claim it indicates the United States is not committed to Afghans’ future security. The Afghans are said to fear that Pakistan and terrorists backed by Islamabad will use the U.S. military gear against them.

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Navy Adm. John Kirby told reporters Tuesday that there are no indications that the U.S. economic sanctions against Russia over its takeover attempts in Ukraine will disrupt U.S. military supply routes to Afghanistan.

Some 40 percent of U.S. military supplies transit Russia, mainly by rail cars, on the way to Afghanistan.

“We certainly are not aware of any major changes to the flow of logistics in and out of Afghanistan through the northern distribution network as a result of the tension that’s in Ukraine,” Adm. Kirby said.

However, he added: “It’s something we’re monitoring very, very closely, as you would expect that we would, especially as we continue to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, but there’s no changes that I’m aware of.”

Contact Bill Gertz at @BillGertz.