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Defense Official Warns Taliban May Spill Into Tajikistan

DUSHANBE (Reuters) -- Fierce fights between Afghanistan's Taliban and the U.S.-led coalition may lead to the spillover of violence into neighboring Tajikistan, a senior Tajik defense official has warned.

Tajikistan and other ex-Soviet Central Asian nations have already blamed Taliban-linked groups for a string of gun fights this year. The United States now ships some supplies for its troops in Afghanistan through the volatile Muslim region.

"The escalation of fighting in Konduz and other Afghan provinces [bordering Tajikistan] may make the situation at the border more tense and provoke the Taliban to break through," Deputy Defense Minister Ramil Nadyrov said.

He was speaking at the opening ceremony of a military exercise run by the Russian-led Common Security Treaty Organization.

"The exercise is important, considering the increased activity of Taliban gunmen in the regions of Afghanistan that border Tajikistan," Nadyrov said.

Impoverished Tajikistan was itself ravaged by a 1990s civil war between pro-government forces and the Islamist opposition. Last month it said its security forces had destroyed "an armed terrorist gang" linked to the Taliban.

The Taliban, ousted from government by U.S.-backed Afghan forces after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, has spread from its traditional heartland into once-safe northern areas like Konduz.

The NATO-led force now stands at a record strength of more than 100,000, including about 63,000 Americans, half of whom arrived this year as part of an escalation strategy pursued by U.S. President Barack Obama.