Russian and Tajik troops hold joint exercises near Afghan border

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MOMIRAK FIRE FIELD, Tajikistan (AP) – Russian and Tajik troops conducted joint exercises near Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan on Friday, as part of efforts to prepare for possible security threats from Afghanistan.

The exercises at the Momirak rifle range about 20 kilometers (12 miles) north of the Afghan border involved armored vehicles and helicopter gunships. It was part of weeklong war games that brought together around 5,000 troops and over 700 armored vehicles from Russia, Tajikistan and several other ex-Soviet countries, members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Moscow-dominated security pact.

Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo said the exercises were decided amid “catastrophic changes following the withdrawal of the international coalition” from Afghanistan.

“The terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan (…) have obtained many modern weapons, have significantly improved their positions and, using the current situation, are creating the conditions for its transformation into an anchor for further destructive actions in the region, ”added Mirzo.

Russian officials said they trusted the Taliban’s pledge not to threaten neighboring countries, but noted that ISIS, al-Qaeda and other militants in northern Afghanistan may try. destabilize the neighboring ex-Soviet countries of Central Asia. They also said that drug trafficking from Afghanistan would continue to present a challenge.

Moscow has pledged to provide military assistance to its former Soviet allies in Central Asia to help counter possible threats and has organized a series of joint exercises in Afghanistan’s neighbors Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.

Russia has a military base in Tajikistan, its largest military outpost in the former Soviet Union. It also maintains an air base in Kyrgyzstan, and jets based there have participated in this week’s war games.

Lt. Gen. Yevgeniy Poplavsky, deputy commander of the Russian Armed Forces Central Military District who oversaw the exercises, described them as part of training to counter possible security concerns.

Fighting between the Taliban and the Islamic State in northern Afghanistan has raised fears that IS fighters and other militants are flocking to countries in Central Asia.

“(The Taliban) will try to push all pro-ISIS military groups out of its territory or destroy them and become the only one (in power),” Poplavsky said. “That is why we are not ruling out the option of them pushing them into the territory of Tajikistan.”

The Soviet Union fought a 10-year war in Afghanistan which ended with the withdrawal of its troops in 1989. In recent years, Russia has made a diplomatic comeback as an influential intermediary in Afghanistan. , organizing several rounds of talks with various Afghan factions.

Russia has worked for years to establish contact with the Taliban, even though it designated the group as a terrorist organization in 2003 and never removed it from the list. Unlike many other countries, it did not evacuate its embassy in Kabul after taking control of the Afghan capital in August.

Russia hosted another round of talks on Wednesday involving the Taliban as well as senior diplomats from China, Pakistan, Iran, India and former Soviet countries in Central Asia.

Speaking on Thursday at a panel with international foreign policy experts, Russian President Vladimir Putin said the international community “is preparing” to officially recognize the Taliban as the new rulers of Afghanistan, saying the decision must be taken by the United Nations. He stressed the need for the Taliban to recognize the interests of all Afghan ethnic groups and respect human rights, but noted its efforts to combat ISIS and other militants.

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Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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