Thousands of troops from Russia and the former Soviet republic of Tajikistan recently participated in joint military exercises along the Afghanistan border to prepare against possible spillover violence from the northern Afghan provinces where the Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) are fueling deteriorating security conditions, Khaama Press (KP) reported Thursday.
U.S. and Afghan defense officials have accused Russia of lending support to the Afghan Taliban, which has been fighting a war against U.S.-NATO-led forces since 2001.
Now, it appears the terrorist group is threatening Central Asian countries like Tajikistan with close ties to Russia that border Afghanistan.
KP reveals, “The Ministry of Defense of Tajikistan has confirmed that the joint exercises have been launched to prepare the armed forces to respond to possible threats from the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan.”
According to Russia’s state-owned TASS news agency, Russian troops, backed by rocket artillery and helicopters, participated in a drill last Saturday with their Tajik counterparts to repel a simulated terrorist attack stemming from Afghanistan.
“The drills completed a six-day tactical exercise which began on July 9. According to earlier reports, the exercise involved over 3,200 personnel and about 800 pieces of military hardware and equipment. Russia’s 201st military base, deployed in Tajikistan, is the country’s biggest military facility outside its borders. In line with an agreement signed in October 2012, Russian troops will stay in the country at least until 2042,” TASS noted on July 15.
The Kremlin claims its support for the Taliban is limited to fighting ISIS and promoting promote peace negotiations.
Some Taliban fighters reportedly confirmed that they receive assistance from Russia, alleging that the “sole purpose” of their relationship with Moscow is to expel Russian rival United States from Afghanistan.
KP points out that at least 10,000 troops from Tajikistan and 400 from Russia have participated in the joint military drills.
Taliban and ISIS have been clashing in recent months across some northern Afghan provinces, which shares a border with various Central Asian countries with close ties to Russia.
In July 2017, CNN reported that Russia had supplied weapons to the Taliban via the Tajikistan border with Afghanistan.
Hashim Wahdatyar, a fellow at the Asia Society who served as a program officer for the United Nations in Afghanistan, wrote in an editorial published by the Diplomat that Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the late Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour in Tajikistan back in September 2015 “for the purpose of collaboration.”
That month, Putin did visit Tajikistan for the Russian-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) summit.
For years, Russia has expressed concerns as Afghanistan descended into chaos after former U.S. President Barack Obama declared America’s combat mission against the Taliban over at the end of 2014.
When Putin Visited Tajikistan in 2015, KP reported at the time that Russia was considering the deployment of forces on to Tajikistan to monitor the Afghanistan border amid fears that security conditions were deteriorating.