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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army Steps Up Watch Of Tajikistan Border

Russia is laying antipersonnel mines and reinforcing its defensive positions along the border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, as Taliban fighters have brought their forces within artillery range of the Russian army, which protects the gateway to Central Asia.

Sergei Ivanov, secretary of the Security Council, said Moscow did not believe the Taliban army was preparing an attack across Tajikistan's border. But the Taliban military campaign has scored a series of victories in recent weeks, prompting a strong expression of concern from Central Asia governments, whose national security advisers met in Moscow during the weekend.

Ivanov said that "from the point of view of the national security of Russia," the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan was of greater concern to Moscow than the current instability in Yugoslavia following presidential elections.

Speaking on television, Ivanov said that "according to our assessments," more than 30,000 troops were fighting under Taliban command, including regular army troops from Pakistan "as well as mercenaries from the Arab countries and Chechnya."

Taliban rulers Tuesday denied sending, sponsoring or training Islamic militants to wage war in Russia or any of the bordering Central Asian states, The Associated Press reported.

As Afghan refugees flee the fighting, Ivanov warned of the possibility of a "large-scale human disaster that is comparable with everything that took place in Kosovo and other major human disasters throughout the world over the last years.

"And, of course," he added, "they will seek refuge on the territory of Tajikistan, so it is a threat that we consider to be very serious."

Russian concern about the involvement of Pakistani troops in the Taliban campaign apparently prompted President Vladimir Putin to dispatch a senior envoy to Islamabad last week to discuss security in the region. The envoy, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, was said to have met with senior Pakistani military and intelligence officials, though Moscow did not comment on the results of his consultations.

Taliban forces undertook an offensive this summer against the "northern alliance" forces under the command of Ahmed Shah Masoud, whose army defends a swath of mountainous enclaves in parts of northern Afghanistan not under Taliban control. Masoud's fighters were overrun last month and lost control of Taliqan, the northern Afghan city that controls access to the Pyanj River border region with Tajikistan. Last week Masoud was said to have begun a counteroffensive.

Masoud's tenacious territorial defense in the north provides safe haven for the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani, the Afghan leader ejected from Kabul when the Taliban swept into power four years ago.

Under a longstanding basing agreement, Russia deploys more than 20,000 troops in Tajikistan to guard the border with Afghanistan. Tajik President Emomali Rakhmonov is due to meet next week with Putin, who is to stop in Dushanbe on the way back from India.