Russia on Wednesday issued a warning about the threat of the Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan, saying they are pouring into the war-torn country from Syria, Libya and elsewhere.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who is visiting Tajikistan, said Moscow would provide its ally with weapons, equipment and training amid a “deteriorating” situation in neighbouring Afghanistan.
According to Interfax, Russia would use its military base in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan should any security threats emanate from Afghanistan.
Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will hold joint military drills next week near Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan, where the Taliban has made huge military gains. The militant group claims to control 90 per cent of the country’s borders - a claim which the Afghan government denies.
Speaking in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe where he met his counterpart Sherali Mirzo, Mr Shoigu said Moscow had organized additional supplies of weaponry and equipment to bolster Tajikistan’s army.
“We continue to train qualified Tajik military personnel. We prepare them both at our military universities and at the 201st Russian military base,” Mr Shoigu said.
US military commanders have already warned that the pullout will embolden the Taliban’s campaign to retake the country.
“Afghanistan has long been a security concern for Moscow because of its spillover potential into the neighbouring Central Asian states, long regarded by Moscow as a vulnerable entry point or soft underbelly,” Li-Chen Sim, non-resident scholar at US Middle East Institute, told The Independent.
But the fierce fighting near its borders seems to have rattled Tajikistan, especially after the Taliban effectively took control over the main Shir Khan Bandar border crossing with Afghanistan.
Last week, the Tajik military held the biggest military exercise in the country’s history amid the Taliban rampage next door. Around 230,000 soldiers have taken part in the drills, and 20,000 more have been deployed to reinforce other forces guarding the borders with Afghanistan.
Since the withdrawal of the US-led troops from Afghanistan, Russia has tried to take advantage of the increasing security concerns in many Central Asian countries, fearing it would create a security vacuum.
On Tuesday, Moscow said it would send around 1,000 of its soldiers to Tajikistan to take part in joint military drills in the country next week. Russian tanks were seen moving up to take their positions near the Tajik-Afghan borders amid the military exercise.
Moscow’s swift moves in countries around Afghanistan made observers think President Vladimir Putin is trying to swiftly position his country as the regional security guarantor after the US departure.
“I believe the additional security burden is not something Moscow desires given the danger of blowback and terror attacks against Russia. But Russia’s hand is now forced by the US pullout, and by worries that if it doesn’t take the lead, China might,” Ms Sim said.
Additional reporting by agencies
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