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Russia Accepts Afghan Request For Military Aid

The Afghan National Army still uses some Soviet-era equipment
KABUL (Reuters) -- Russia has accepted a request from Afghan President Hamid Karzai to provide military aid to Afghanistan, the Afghan government has said.

The move comes amid complaints by many Afghans that NATO and the United States, who have thousands of troops in Afghanistan, have been slow to equip Afghan national forces to fight the Taliban.

Afghanistan has largely relied on NATO and the United States to bankroll its security needs and the economy since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban government in 2001.

But despite receiving some military equipment from NATO, Afghanistan still uses Russian-made weapons and aircraft, left over from the former Soviet Union's 10-year occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since the Taliban's removal, made the request by a letter to Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev in November 2008, the presidential palace said in a statement.

"Medvedev, in a letter addressed to Karzai, has said that Russia is ready to help Afghanistan in the defense sector," the statement said.

Medvedev said defense ties between Kabul and Moscow would result in effective cooperation on both sides and in the restoration of security in the region, the statement said.

Russia was keen for cooperation with Afghanistan in other areas too, the statement quoted Medvedev as saying in the letter.

Chief presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada said that despite Karzai's call on Russia for defense aid, Afghanistan was committed to its ties with NATO and the United States.

"The equipment of our national army, our helicopters and tanks, are Russian-made, so this [request] has a technical aspect. We have strategic commitments to NATO and the United States," Hamidzada told Reuters.

Some 70,000 foreign troops under NATO and U.S. military command are stationed in Afghanistan, where the Al-Qaeda-backed Taliban have made a comeback since 2005. Washington is expected by summer to send up to 30,000 extra forces to the country.

U.S.-led and Afghan troops overthrew the Taliban government after it refused to hand over Al-Qaeda leaders wanted by Washington for masterminding the September 11 attacks on the United States.

More than seven years on, Taliban and Al-Qaeda leaders are still at large, and many Afghans believe foreign forces are more focused on pursuing their own regional agendas than on helping Afghanistan.

The United States and its allies have not given any time frame for the withdrawal of their forces and say the soldiers will remain in Afghanistan for the long haul and until national security forces can stand on their own feet.