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Meanwhile, Russian diplomats continue to support a negotiated deal between Kabul and the Taliban, with a dark side cast on the Americans.
On Monday, Russian and Uzbek troops began joint military exercises near the Afghan border. Later this week, the forces of the two countries will participate in trilateral military exercises in neighboring Tajikistan. Both exercises were sparked by Taliban advances in northern Afghanistan in recent weeks, which sparked the flight of Afghan forces and civilians across the border into Tajikistan. At the same time, Russian diplomatic rhetoric swings between berating the United States for its failure in Afghanistan and supporting a negotiated settlement.
First, the exercises: August 2, around 1,500 Russian and Uzbek soldiers have started joint exercises in Termez which are expected to last five days.
In preparation for the trilateral exercises, which are scheduled to begin at the Harb-Maidon training ground in Tajikistan on August 5, Russia transferred Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopters from Novosibirsk to Gissar Air Base (also known as the name of Ayni air base) near Dushanbe. The Harb-Maidon training ground is located about 20 kilometers from the Afghan-Tajik border. The press service of the Russian Central Military District said in a declaration that the four helicopters were partially dismantled, transported by an An-124 Ruslan transport aircraft and reassembled in Tajikistan. During the exercises, the statement said, the helicopters will be used to disembark tactical assault forces and provide air support.
In end of July, Russia has moved tanks to the training ground in preparation for the exercise, which is scheduled to run through August 10 and include more than 2,500 soldiers of the three countries.
Although not related to the exercises, it should be mentioned that Russian forces stationed in Tajikistan have commissioned 17 new BMP-2M infantry fighting vehicles. The vehicles would be intended to replace obsolete equipment. Russia’s 201st military base in Tajikistan is one of its most important foreign bases, with around 7,000 troops spread over three installations.
On Diplomatic Developments: As Russian forces and their Central Asian counterparts practice repelling attacking forces, Russian diplomats continue to promote a negotiated settlement to the Afghan conflict. While the main external actors in Afghanistan continue to center a negotiated settlement, Russia does so with a dark side cast over the United States’ 20-year military engagement in the country.
To illustrate: In an online forum put last week by the Alexander Gorchakov Public Diplomacy Fund, a Russian think tank founded by Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, Russian presidential envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said al-Qaida is not engaging in hostilities in Afghanistan. He said reports of the group’s cooperation with the Taliban are mere speculations mainly discussed by Kabul and the Americans, “in order to justify their own failures and inability to manage.”
According to a TASS report, Kabulov said: â[They] I really want to find an explanation why the 300,000 Afghan soldiers are ceding their positions to the 75,000 Taliban.
Russia designates both al-Qaida and the Taliban as terrorist groups, although it has hosted several Taliban delegations in recent years.
At the same event, according to a report by RTKabulov suggested that two-thirds of the Taliban, “including its senior leaders, are committed to the idea of ââa political solution to the Afghan crisis.” The context of his comment appears to have been concerns about the fallout in Central Asia, given that he added that Taliban fighters are tired and unlikely to try to cross through Central Asia. The Taliban have promised that their ambitions will not extend beyond the borders of Afghanistan.
Kabulov’s comments come as the Taliban pressure Afghan government forces across the country. In the southern province of Helmand, nine of the ten districts of the provincial capital are said to have fallen to the Taliban.
Speaking online at the Aspen Security Forum this week, US envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad said he was planning to meet with the Enlarged “troika” – Russia, China and Pakistan – in the coming days to discuss Afghanistan. Kabulov meanwhile, lamented that Iran has not yet been included in the enlarged “troika”. Kabulov said the state of US-Iranian relations was the reason for Iran’s continued exclusion from the talks.