Russia, Central Asian allies hold drills near Afghanistan
MOSCOW (AP) — Troops from Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on Tuesday wrapped up their drills intended to simulate a joint response to potential security threats coming from Afghanistan.
The war games that began last week involved 2,500 Russian, Tajik and Uzbek troops and about 500 military vehicles.
The drills, which were held at Harb-Maidon firing range about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) north of the Tajik border with Afghanistan, saw the troops practice action against invading militants. As part of the exercise, Russian Su-25 attack jets struck mock targets imitating militant vehicles.
The Russian military said the maneuvers took place “against the background of the destabilization of the situation in neighboring Afghanistan, in order to work out the issues of repelling possible threats and practical interaction to ensure security and maintain stability in the Central Asian region.”
It noted that Russian troops in Tajikistan practiced using new weapons during the drills, including new sniper rifles and flame throwers.
Russia, which has a military base in Tajikistan, has pledged to offer military assistance to its ally and other ex-Soviet Central Asian nations if they face incursions of militants from Afghanistan. Three Central Asian nations — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan — are members of the Moscow-dominated security pact of several ex-Soviet nations, the Collective Security Treaty Organization.
Russia’s Central Military District chief, Col.-Gen. Alexander Lapin, noted that the exercise was conducted amid the exacerbation of the situation in Afghanistan raising “the threat of penetration of radical terrorist groups” into Central Asian nations.
“I am sure that future joint actions will help strengthen the military cooperation and protect our countries from military aggression,” he said.
The drills in Tajikistan followed last week’s exercise in Uzbekistan that involved 1,500 Russian and Uzbek troops and 200 military vehicles. As part of the maneuvers, four Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers flew from their base in western Russia to strike mock militant camps at the Termez firing range in Uzbekistan near the border with Afghanistan.
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 have captured five out of Afghanistan’s 34 provincial capitals in less than a week and are now battling the Western-backed government for control of several others, including Lashkar Gah in Helmand, and Kandahar and Farah in provinces of the same names.
Last month, a delegation of the Taliban visited Moscow to offer assurances that their quick gains on the ground in Afghanistan did not threaten Russia or its allies in Central Asia.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu on Tuesday noted the Taliban’s pledge but emphasized the importance of beefing up security of the Central Asian nations amid the escalating hostilities in Afghanistan. He added that the Taliban now control Afghanistan’s borders with Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.
Shoigu hailed the latest joint maneuvers in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan and said more such drills would be held in the future.
“It’s very important for us that the armed forces of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will be ready to fend off potential threats, even though the Taliban leaders say they will not make any incursions across the border and attacks on neighbors,” Shoigu said, according to Russian news agencies.