Russia has finalised a deal with NATO to supply two dozen combat helicopters to Afghanistan and train local pilots.

Russia and NATO will set up a trust fund for the supply and maintenance of Mi-17 and Mi-35 helicopters, said a top Russian diplomat.

“We have carried out a large amount of preparatory work to assess Afghanistan’s need in helicopters, their maintenance and personnel training,” Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko told the Itar-Tass news agency on Friday. “Some NATO countries have announced readiness to make national contributions to the fund.”

Earlier reports said Russia would sell 21 helicopters for the Afghan military at a cost of $367,5 million and supply three more aircraft gratis. The U.S. agreed to foot the bill after Moscow turned down a NATO request to supply the helicopters for free.

Once the new aircraft are delivered the Afghan army will have close to 100 Russian-built helicopters.

The Russian daily Kommersant quoted Afghanistan's Air Force Chief of Staff General Abdul Wahab Wardak last week as saying the delivery is expected to begin before the end of the year.

“We badly need them. Russian helicopters are better fitted for our needs than any other helicopters and our pilots are well familiar with them as we’ve been flying them since the 1980s,” General Wardak said.

Mr. Grushko said cooperation in Afghanistan was “one of the most tangible achievements of the Russia-NATO Council.” He recalled that Russia trains Afghan anti-drug personnel and has provided land and air transit corridors for the coalition forces in Afghanistan.

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