Leaders from five ex-Soviet Central Asian nations on Friday voiced concern about instability possibly spilling out of Afghanistan and discussed their response to potential security threats, while Russian heavy bombers carried out practice strikes in joint drills near the Afghan border.
The leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan met in Turkmenbashi on the Caspian Sea to talk about the regional challenges.
“A quick settlement of the situation in Afghanistan is a key factor for preserving and strengthening security and stability in Central Asia,” the five leaders said in a statement after the talks.
Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov noted that the talks give a boost to regional cooperation. The five leaders talked about expanding trade and economic ties and establishing a permanent regional security dialogue.
The fighting between the Taliban and Afghanistan’s government forces has escalated recently as U.S. and NATO troops complete their pullout from the war-torn country. The Taliban currently control more than half of Afghanistan's 421 districts and district centers after pressing their offensive at unexpected speed and are aiming to seize provincial capitals.
“Regrettably, the Taliban has taken control of the entire length of the border with our country,” Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rakhmon said during Friday’s summit.
Rakhmon said that more than 2,000 Afghan army soldiers have fled to Tajikistan following the Taliban offensive. “It's quite surprising that they retreated and abandoned their positions without offering any resistance to the Taliban,” he added.
He also expressed concern about the concentration of “terrorist groups” in Afghanistan along the border with Tajikistan that together number more than 3,000 militants from the ex-Soviet states and China.
“These are extremists who are well-trained in sabotage, terrorism and propaganda activities and have far-reaching plans concerning our region,” Rakhmon said, noting that Tajikistan has moved to strengthen the protection of its border with Afghanistan.
Uzbekistan's President Shavkat Mirziyoyev also emphasized that stability in Central Asia hinges on the situation in Afghanistan.
Russia, which has a security pact with Central Asian nations and military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, has pledged to provide military assistance in order to fend off any potential threats coming from Afghanistan.
On Friday, Russian and Uzbek troops wrapped up joint war games involving 1,500 troops and 200 military vehicles. The maneuvers featured four Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers flying from a base in western Russia to strike mock militant camps at the Termez firing range in Uzbekistan near the border with Afghanistan.
Another joint military exercise that began Thursday in Tajikistan near the Afghan border involves 2,500 Russian, Tajik and Uzbek troops as well as 500 military vehicles.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the war games were intended to “train for joint action to destroy invading enemy forces.”
Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.