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Russia Announces Helicopter Reinforcements For Tajik Base Amid Afghan Unrest

An Mi-24 attack helicopter flies past an airfield in Syria.

Russia has announced that it will deploy attack and military-transport helicopters to beef up its military presence in Tajikistan amid rising insecurity in northern Afghanistan.

A Defense Ministry official was quoted by Russian media as saying on October 7 that an unspecified number of Mi-24P attack and Mi-8MTV transport and combat helicopters will be stationed at the base of the Russian military's 201st Motorized Rifle Division.

The aircraft will be used to provide air cover for military columns, deliver airborne forces and cargo, carry out reconnaissance missions, and evacuate the sick and wounded, according to Interfax.

The helicopters are to be stationed at the division's air base located about 10 kilometers west of the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, and 170 kilometers north of the country's border with Afghanistan.

The announcement by Yaroslav Roschupkin, the official representative of Russia's Central Military District, comes a day after Tajik President Emomali Rahmon expressed concern about the "increasingly deteriorating situation" in northern Afghanistan.

"Fighting is going on along more than 60 percent of the Tajik border with Afghanistan," Rahmon said during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi on October 6.

"The Tajik border with Afghanistan is in fact the Commonwealth of Independent States' [CIS] southern border, and any threat to the Tajik border is a threat to the CIS, too," Rahmon said.

The Tajik president's office said that Rahmon and Putin discussed "military and technical cooperation and steps to strengthen the Tajik-Afghan border."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked on October 7 whether the two presidents had agreed to expand the Russian military presence in Tajikistan, said no such agreement was made.

Peskov noted, however, that Putin and Rahmon shared the opinion that "current events in the region cased concern," according to Interfax.

Tajikistan shares a more than 1,400-kilometer-long border with Afghanistan, including along Afghanistan's volatile Kunduz and Badakhshan provinces, where Taliban activity has flared up in recent months.

Recently, the militant group briefly captured the provincial capital, Kunduz, just 70 kilometers from the Tajik border.

Some Tajik villagers living alongside the border say they have been following the developments in the neighboring country with "anxiety."

"Sometimes we can hear gunfire at close proximity, and it causes panic among people," said Muhammad Ismoilov, a resident of the southern Tajik village of Kokul, which borders Afghanistan's Kunduz Province.

Ismoilov told RFE/RL by telephone that "helicopters can be heard flying overhead during the night, although it's unclear on which side of the border they are flying."

He said that in recent days a nearby border crossing to Afghanistan was closed.

The 7,000-strong 201st Motorized Rifle Division is stationed at three different facilities in Tajikistan; the air base outside Dushanbe, and two others in southern Khatlon Province.

Under an agreement signed in October 2012, Russian troops are allowed to remain stationed in Tajikistan until 2042.

Russian officials have announced plans to increase the number of troops stationed in Tajikistan to 9,000 over the next five years and to provide more military equipment through 2020.

Russian media have reported that Moscow is also prepared to grant Tajikistan $1.2 billion in military aid over the next few years.

With reporting by Interfax, TASS, and
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