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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministers Stand Behind Taliban Strike Threats




The foreign and defense ministers added their weight Wednesday to threats that Russia could launch strikes against Afghanistan if its Taliban rulers aided Chechen rebels.


The issue surfaced this week when the Kremlin's Chechnya spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembsky, accused the Taliban of harboring Chechen rebels and warned that the military might carry out "preventive strikes."


Afghanistan has denied training or supporting the rebels.


"If a potential threat emerges, various actions become possible, including those mentioned by Sergei Yastrzhembsky," RIA news agency quoted Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov as saying during a trip to Minsk, Belarus' capital.


Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, also in Minsk, said such attacks were being viewed as an option.


"In the current situation, the important thing is to show our resolve to conduct decisive actions against the bandits," he said in remarks broadcast by NTV television.


Interfax quoted unnamed senior sources in the Defense Ministry as saying the option of military strikes had been fully worked out.


"If the relevant political decision is taken, the strikes would follow immediately," it quoted the sources as saying.


The sources added that only airstrikes had been allowed for. "There are no plans to use ground forces," they said.


The last Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989 after a decade of fighting Islamic guerrillas opposed to the Moscow-backed regime in Kabul.


Boris Nemtsov, a State Duma deputy and the new leader of the Union of Right Forces faction, recalled Moscow's unhappy past in Afghanistan and urged caution.


"The military may prepare for any operation but only the commander-in-chief, the head of state, can make a decision [on using force]," Nemtsov said at a news conference in Moscow.


"He must recall that we have already had a war in Afghanistan, which lasted 10 years, and that as a result, the 40th Army pulled out from there and thousands of people died."


He added that he expected President Vladimir Putin to make an "intelligent, balanced" decision.


On Wednesday, Putin was with Ivanov and Sergeyev in Minsk to discuss security cooperation between Russia and several other ex-Soviet states. Also attending the gathering were the presidents, foreign and defense ministers of Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.


The six countries, all members of the Commonwealth of Independent States, have a collective security agreement. Three CIS members - Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan - opted out of the security treaty last year.


The CIS has been hobbled since its inception in 1991 by differences on the speed and extent of post-Soviet integration. Leaders complain that the CIS has made little progress because hundreds of decisions exist only on paper.


But fears over the spread of Islamic extremism, particularly in Central Asian countries bordering on Afghanistan, have prompted some countries to restore close ties with Moscow.


Weaker states, like Tajikistan, depend on Moscow to keep a fragile peace. Others, like Uzbekistan, have moved closer to Russia under Putin's leadership to tackle what they see as a threat from groups like Afghanistan's ruling Taliban movement.


Russia itself has been waging an eight-month-long military offensive in southern Chechnya against separatists it says are terrorists backed from outside the country.


Putin showed the importance he attached to strengthening security ties with Central Asia by making it the first area he visited after his inauguration. Uzbek President Islam Karimov said then that closer cooperation with Russia was vital to combat terrorism.


Colonel General Gennady Troshev, who is commanding federal forces in Chechnya, said Wednesday that his forces had used artillery to blast a rebel column, killing more than 20 fighters.


Troshev was quoted by news agencies as saying that reconnaissance troops found the rebel column moving in the strategically important Argun Gorge in southern Chechnya.


He said an artillery strike was ordered, blowing up six vehicles. The rebel Internet web site, Kavkaz.org, made no mention of the attack.