Russia holds military drills in Tajikistan amid Taliban’s Afghanistan offensive

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Russia on Wednesday launched military exercises in Tajikistan as the Taliban mount a blistering offensive in neighboring Afghanistan.

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The militants in recent weeks have brought huge swathes of the country under their control as foreign troops withdraw, including Afghanistan’s main Shir Khan Bandar border crossing with Tajikistan.

Moscow is closely watching the offensive, concerned about the security of countries in ex-Soviet Central Asia where it maintains military bases.

On Wednesday some 1,000 troops based at Russia’s 201st military base in Tajikistan’s capital Dushanbe took part in drills, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

The agency cited a statement by Russia’s Central Military District as saying the exercises were meant for unit commanders and combat chiefs to ready for “combat operations in a dynamically changing situation”.

Interfax reported that the exercises will run through the end of the week.

Russia’s defense ministry said in a statement carried by the news agency that servicemen stationed at the military base had “repelled a massive missile strike by a simulated enemy” during the drills on Wednesday.

The 201st base is one of Russia’s most important foreign bases and has the aim of helping maintain stability in Central Asia and providing support for Tajik troops.

Set up in 2005 and made up of three separate installations, the base houses some 5,500 troops.

In 2012, Tajikistan gave Russia an extension on the base through 2042 so it could help police its border with Afghanistan.

Ex-Soviet Tajikistan is a member of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes Russia.

More than 1,000 Afghan troops fled to Tajikistan in early July after the Taliban seized Shir Khan Bandar. They were flown back to Afghanistan last week.

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