Tajikistan and Russia have commenced joint military exercises near the Tajik-Afghan border in a bid to boost the Central Asian country’s readiness in warding off potential attacks by the Afghanistan-based Taliban militant group.
Tajikistan’s Defense Ministry in a statement announced the news on Tuesday, saying that more than 10,000 soldiers, mostly Tajik reservists, had participated in the first such drills in Tajikistan’s Gorno-Badakhshan Autonomous Region.
Combined troops will practice “eliminating terrorists who broke through” from Afghanistan in an imagined incursion, the statement added.
Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation said in a statement that some 400 troopers and 80 pieces of Russian military equipment were deployed from a military base in Tajikistan for the drills, which are scheduled to be concluded on Friday.
The two countries have intensified military cooperation since US-led forces began pulling out troops from Afghanistan in large numbers in 2014. The ex-Soviet allies also held similar drills in March 2016.
This is the first time that Dushanbe has held such military drills in the sometimes restive Gorno-Badakhshan, where clashes between government troops and rebel forces broke out some six years ago. Previous exercises had been held in the country’s southern province of Khatlon.
Back in 2016, China held its own joint drills with Tajiks. Beijing has also beefed up its security assistance in the Central Asian country in recent times, notably building infrastructure on the 1,300-kilometer border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, the world’s biggest opium producer.
The turbulent border is a haven for drug traffickers and was guarded by Russian troops before they stepped back in 2005.
Taliban’s five-year rule over at least three quarters of Afghanistan came to an end when the United States and its allies invaded the country on October 7, 2001, as part of Washington’s so-called war on terror.
In February, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani called on Taliban to join peace talks “without preconditions.” In return, Ghani said Taliban would need to recognize the Afghan government and respect the rule of law.
Despite the continued presence of foreign troops across the country, Taliban have been involved in widespread militancy, killing thousands of civilians as well as Afghan security forces and displacing tens of thousands of people across the country ever since.
Taliban have repeatedly declared that they would not enter talks with Kabul until US-led foreign troops left the country. However, they time and again have said they are ready for talks with Washington.
Earlier in the day, General John Nicholson, the top commander of US forces in Afghanistan, announced that the US was also ready to initiate direct talks with Taliban in an attempt to end a 17-year-old war in Afghanistan.