Apr 26, 2021
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Taliban armed to the teeth target Russia?

In the photo: a new outfit for visiting the "Window" facility

In the photo: a new outfit for visiting the “Window” facility (Photo: Sergey Ponomarev)

The United States, along with its NATO allies, has begun the withdrawal of personnel from its bases in Afghanistan, due to be completed by 9/11. This was announced at a conference in Kabul by the commander of the American contingent, General Scott Miller… For Russia, this means a new potential threat from the south.

Leaving Afghanistan, the Western military “will hand over all their bases to the forces of Afghanistan,” the general promised. Earlier, the demand for the United States to leave weapons and equipment was stated by a representative of the Afghan Ministry of Defense Fawad Aman… For the acceptance of weapons by the authorities of the country, a special commission has been created.

Washington has doubts about Kabul’s ability to retain power in the country. According to the head of the US Central Command, General Frank Mackenzie, there is currently a “delicate balance” between the Taliban * and the Afghan government. The 50,000-strong Taliban now control more Afghan territory than they did 10 years ago.

Earlier, the Taliban, dissatisfied with the timing of the withdrawal, promised to resume attacks on foreign soldiers in Afghanistan. Fearing an attack, the Americans increased the security of their contingent: they redeployed to the region – to an airfield in Qatar, two B-52 bombers and “parked” the Dwight Eisenhower nuclear aircraft carrier nearby.

The results of the American occupation of Afghanistan were critically assessed in Russia. According to our diplomats, the billions of dollars allocated for the training of Afghan security officials “went into the sand.” “The recognition of the fact that the Afghan problems have no military solution came to the Americans only after a decade of an inglorious campaign,” they said on Smolenskaya Square.

Moscow’s emotions are understandable. Now, the Taliban, not being held back by the Americans, could become the largest military force in Afghanistan and thus threaten the security of Russian allies in Central Asia. Having problems in Ukraine, Belarus, around Karabakh, Russia would not at all want to get another hot spot from Asia.

In addition, Russia owns several strategically important facilities in the region, such as the super-secret Okno optoelectronic complex in the Pamir mountains, which is operated in the interests of the Aerospace Forces. Will the Taliban plunder it? Will our 201st military base (the former motorized rifle division, significantly reduced), which is stationed in Tajikistan, be able to defend it, if necessary?

About how the balance of power in Afghanistan will change after the departure of the Americans and how this threatens Russia, “SP” spoke with expert on Central Asia, chief researcher at the Institute of International Studies MGIMO Andrey Kazantsev

– The government of Afghanistan, without a constant powerful replenishment of external resources, without foreign troops on its territory, can collapse along ethnic lines. There are very serious disagreements between Pashtuns and Tajiks. Actually, this was evident in the last presidential elections, where the incumbent presidents competed. Ashraf Ghani (Pashtun) and the Prime Minister Abdullah Abdullah (Tajik). Then for a very long time they could not decide which of them won, and it took a reconciling American intervention.

This story is very similar to what took place in Soviet times. There, too, there was a conflict between two factions of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA): the Tajik Parcham and the Pashtun Khalq. The ideological differences between them were insignificant. Soviet special forces killed Amina – the leader of the Khalqists, and Moscow thus put the leader of the Tajiks in power Babraka Karmalya… And when the Soviet troops left, a split occurred again and again along the same line. First, a confrontation arose between the Pashtun Mujahideen and national minorities led by the Tajiks, who called themselves the Northern Alliance, and then the Taliban came.

And now the same situation may arise. Many Afghan minorities fear that the Pashtuns in the government will come to terms with the Pashtuns in the Taliban behind them. And then they will recreate the Northern Alliance. And it will be like in the 1990s, after the departure of the Soviet troops. Then part of our weapons fell to the Mujahideen, then to the Taliban. The same can happen with American weapons. There is such a threat. This means all the neighboring states of Afghanistan will have to help its government to avoid this. Talked about it Joe Bidenwhen he announced that he would turn to Russia, Pakistan and other countries for help on the Afghan issue.

“SP”: Now this is our headache, for Russia. If not right now, then a few years later …

– Exactly. The president Putin at one time I spoke about this many times. He explained that he supported the entry of American troops into Afghanistan and provided assistance. Russia agreed to the deployment of American military bases in Central Asia, the US military transit through our territory was allowed – Putin personally traveled to Ulyanovsk and explained why the American contingent in Afghanistan was needed. This had certain drawbacks, but it allowed Russia to save forces and resources in the fight against international extremism, terrorism and drug trafficking. First of all, terrorism, because the Americans did not fight the drug trade very much.

And now Russia will have to pay more attention to protecting the countries of Central Asia. Because we, within the framework of the CSTO, guarantee the security of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. There are Russian military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. There are no bases in Kazakhstan, but there are military facilities. The 201st division in Tajikistan, known to many, is now withdrawn from the border, but still in place. As for the Okno tracking station, it, like the submarine base at Issyk-Kul, has no direct relation to the fight against terrorism, to attempts to cross the border. This is the remnant of the Soviet military infrastructure.

In the photo: not far from the Tajik city of Nurek, high in the mountains, there is a top secret optical-electronic space tracking object "Window", owned by the Russian Aerospace Forces
In the photo: not far from the Tajik city of Nurek, high in the mountains, there is a top secret optical-electronic space tracking object “Window”, owned by the Russian Aerospace Forces (Photo: Sergey Ponomarev)

In general, there are a lot of problems there. We have an open border with Kazakhstan – the second longest in the world (only the United States and Canada have more), which cannot be fenced off, protected, because it is a bare steppe, few settlements, weak infrastructure.

We are also strongly connected with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. If everything collapses there, events like the civil war in Tajikistan in the early 1990s begin, then millions of migrants will move to Russia. They can be infiltrated by representatives of radical groups. True, such scenarios were worked out during the CSTO exercises. For this, now we need the 201st division, the air base in Kant etc. And much depends on the scale of the threat.

“SP”: – And China is not our assistant here? After all, he is interested in peace in Central Asia for the sake of implementing his transcontinental trade projects …

– Assistant, although there was still a certain division of labor – Russia was responsible for security, and China acted with economic methods. Perhaps now, when China is concerned about the security of Xinjiang, it will use a special format for the fight against terrorism based on consultations with Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, which already exists completely separate from both the CSTO and the SCO.

In the photo: all satellites of a potential enemy, military and civil, are being tracked in the operating room of the Okno network
In the photo: all satellites of a potential enemy – military and civilian – are being tracked in the operating room of the Okno network (Photo: Sergey Ponomarev)

It is more difficult to engage the SCO due to the confrontation between Pakistan and India. India also has problems with China in the Himalayas and at sea. But since China has little experience in using its troops abroad (the Sino-Vietnamese war, clashes with the USSR on the border, and the Korean War), Beijing is likely to use economic methods.

“SP”: – And the Taliban themselves have to climb to the north, risking to get in the teeth from Russia? It seems that they are national in their genesis movement, not seeking expansion?

– This is a big debatable issue. Indeed, the Taliban are Pashtun nationalists. But the problem is that they are closely associated with al-Qaeda. ** The Taliban supported terrorist movements in both the Caucasus and Central Asia, which is why Russia, even before the American troops entered Afghanistan, considered the possibility of bombing the Taliban And because of their connection with al-Qaeda, it is not known what could happen. Now they say that their goal is to free Afghanistan from foreigners. Okay, they will release it – now the Americans will leave. The next goal is to build an Islamic state. an Islamic state, which immediately means a conflict between the Taliban and northern national minorities, who will immediately turn to Russia for help.

In the photo: Russian military facilities in Tajikistan and the Afghan-Tajik border are also ready to be covered by our pilots from the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan.  Photo .
In the photo: Russian military facilities in Tajikistan and the Afghan-Tajik border are also ready to be covered by our pilots from the Kant airbase in Kyrgyzstan. Photo . (Photo: Sergey Ponomarev)

And most importantly, in recent years, a bunch of Taliban and ISIS has emerged. If in the areas of Afghanistan bordering Pakistan there was a confrontation between the Taliban and the ISIS on economic grounds – who will protect drug revenues, then in the north of Afghanistan there was interaction between groups affiliated with ISIS and the Taliban. Including in order to threaten the post-Soviet countries. For example, Qatar transferred money there, wishing to destabilize the situation and disrupt the construction of the TAPI gas pipeline and eliminate competitors of its liquefied gas.

“SP”: – Our Foreign Ministry spoke very harshly about the results of the American 20-year invasion of Afghanistan …

– The Russian Foreign Ministry has a clear position formulated by the Special Representative for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov… He has long said that Russia is in favor of regionalizing the Afghan situation. Since it was clear for a long time that the Americans would soon leave, it makes sense for large neighboring countries (Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran) that have certain interests in the region to create some form of assistance to Afghanistan in order to stabilize the situation there. …

*The Taliban movement was recognized by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation as a terrorist organization on February 14, 2003, and its activities on the territory of Russia were prohibited.

** “Al-Qaeda” by the decision of the Supreme court of the Russian Federation of February 14, 2003 was recognized as a terrorist organization, its activities on the territory of Russia are prohibited.

*** ISIS (“Islamic State” (other names: “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria”, “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”, “Islamic State of Iraq and Sham”) by the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of December 29, 2014 was recognized as a terrorist organization, activity on the territory of Russia is prohibited

*** The “Islamic State” (ISIS) by the decision of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation of December 29, 2014 was recognized as a terrorist organization, the activities of which are officially banned in Russia.

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