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Russia eyes new role in Afghan security

Khalil Rahman Omaid
The Afghan government attempts to score a weapons deal with Russia without drawing the NATO rival into another proxy war.
30.10.2015  |  Kabul
Afghan security forces are currently underequipped to fight insurgents and wish to purchase additional attack aircraft from Russia. (photo: Rahmat Alizada)
Afghan security forces are currently underequipped to fight insurgents and wish to purchase additional attack aircraft from Russia. (photo: Rahmat Alizada)

Russia’s military involvement in Syria has raised the stakes of the country’s counter-terrorism operations throughout the region, impacting security alliances in Central Asian states where the Islamic State launches its attacks on northern Afghan provinces.

The fall of Kunduz city to the Taliban and continuing instability in Badakhshan and Faryab has exacerbated the risk of attacks by militants in Russia’s backyard. The concern is that militants may use its newly gained strongholds in north Afghanistan to reinforce terrorism cells in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that around 7,000 citizens of the Central Asian countries have joined Islamic State (IS). Most of these terrorists are looking to infiltrate the Central Asian countries through Afghanistan, he added.  

As Kunduz fell to the Taliban earlier this month, Russia announced an increase in troops in Tajikistan, where its largest foreign base is located, from 5,900 to 9,000 soldiers by the year 2020. Moscow is also planning to send a unit of helicopters to its Ayni airbase in Tajikistan.

"There is a growing threat that terrorist and extremist groups can penetrate into the territories that border Afghanistan," said President Vladimir Putin at the Dushanbe summit of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a Russia-led security bloc, in September. He added that the situation was exacerbated by the presence of the IS in Afghanistan.

As Russia evaluated the looming crisis in Afghanistan, an Afghan parliamentary delegation travelled to Moscow earlier this month to discuss security strategies.

Members of the delegation stressed they would limit discussions to military equipment for Afghan security forces, and would not be asking for direct Russian intervention in Afghanistan.

“We need fighter planes, we need jets and drones to be able to eliminate terrorists in the North of Afghanistan,” said Iqbal Safi, head of defense commission of the Afghan parliament.

Safi added that Russia is interested in bombarding IS strongholds in Afghanistan, but stressed that his government would not permit Russia to carry out these plans.

Center of rivalry

Members of the Afghan parliament playing a delicate game. While Russian assistance would bolster its Afghan security forces, any large-scale Russian military action in Afghanistan could escalate into a proxy war between Russia and its traditional rival, NATO.

“Afghanistan should not be a victim of rivalry and war between America and Russia,” says Sher Wali Wardak, an MP in the Afghan parliament. “We would not want these two blocs to reach their goals while Afghanistan suffers in the process.”

Several Afghan politicians have raised concerns about the cost of building a stronger relationship with Russia.“The Afghan government should continue its partnership with NATO allies,” said MP Ghuam Farooq Majroh.

Afghanistan is currently finalizing a contract to purchase several MI-35 attack helicopters from Russia by the end of this month.

Afghanistan’s 350,000-strong national security force is facing weapons and equipment shortages. Former president Hamid Karzai repeatedly asked NATO to supply combat planes and heavy weaponry for the Afghan armed forces, but so far these request have been denied.

Aside from the fleet of attack helicopters provided to the Afghan forces by NATO earlier this year, the Afghan army currently relies on a handful of old fighter jets and converted military transport aircraft to launch strikes against insurgents.

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