Russian, Belarusian, Central Asian Troops Practice Rapid Deployment To Afghan Border
Troops from Russia and other members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization are taking part in snap exercises to practice quickly deploying to the border of Tajikistan.
The exercise is taking place amid heightened tension in Tajikistan, as fighting in northern Afghanistan has -- according to some officials -- the potential to destabilize Central Asia.
The CSTO has tried to position itself as the guarantor of security in Tajikistan; in March the group's head said that CSTO rapid reaction forces could reach the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border in three days if fighting broke out there. This exercise is taking place in Tajikistan's Khatlon province, just across the border from Kunduz province in Afghanistan, where heavy fighting broke out last month.
"We are worried by incoming reports about the deterioration of the situation in the north-eastern provinces of Afghanistan on the border with Central Asian countries. We are particularly concerned by the large-scale offensive launched by terrorists in Kunduz, a province that borders on Tajikistan, during which administration buildings were attacked in a number of districts," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in an April 30 statement.
The exercise of the CSTO Collective Rapid Reaction Forces began the afternoon of May 12 and involve about 500 air-mobile soldiers and 60 pieces of equipment from Russia, 100 soldiers and 15 vehicles from Belarus, and unknown numbers of forces from other CSTO member states Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. According to the Kazakhstan Ministry of Defense, more than 2,000 soldiers total are taking part.
The troops will gather at the Kharbmaidon training facility in the Khatlon province of Tajikistan, 200 kilometers from the capital Dushanbe and near the border with Afghanistan. The Russian, Belarussian, and Kazakhstani forces are arriving by air while the Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan units "marched hundreds of kilometers through mountainous terrain" to get to the site, a CSTO press release said. The Armenian contingent "carried out preparations for the transfer by air transport to the designated area," in the words of the press release, suggesting that they may not have sent any troops. The deployment involved 25 flights on May 13, another CSTO release reported.
The exercise is scheduled to last until May 20.
Joshua Kucera is the Turkey/Caucasus editor at Eurasianet, and author of The Bug Pit.
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