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Thursday, 20 September, 2001, 15:59 GMT 16:59 UK
Russia inspects Afghan border troops
By Monica Whitlock in Dushanbe

Senior officials of the Russian army have been meeting Tajik President Imomali Rahmanov and inspecting Russian troops, based on the border with Afghanistan.

Tajik officials have said ... they have no intention of helping anyone to launch operations in Afghanistan, but rumours that they might, persist regardless

Russia's Chief of Staff Anatoly Kvashnin and Secretary of the Security Council Vladimir Rushailo held discussions about Afghanistan amid speculation that central Asia, and especially Tajikistan, could be used as bases for any possible US military action in Afghanistan.

The Tajik-Afghan border is marked by a single river the Amu, running from the Pamir Mountains in the east, through to the plains of the west.

Although Tajikistan is a sovereign country, Russian troops guard this frontier

Originally they were part of the Soviet army, but they stayed on after the collapse of the USSR, largely because this region is of great strategic importance to Moscow.

Russian soldiers on the Tajik-Afghan border
Security has been tightened since the attacks on the US
"We have a special relationship with Tajikistan," General Rushailo said, after holding four hours of talks with President Rahmanov.

The two then flew by helicopter to one of the main border posts at Panj to inspect the troops there.

On his return President Rahmanov said that all was quiet at the frontier and that the soldiers were well equipped and well prepared.

Tajik civilians' alarm

The attacks on New York and Washington have thrown a spotlight on Tajikistan because of its place on the map.

Tajik officials have said several times that they have no intention of helping anyone to launch operations in Afghanistan, but rumours that they might, persist regardless.

Ordinary Tajiks are well aware of the delicate position their country is in.

Many people I spoke to in the street said that they found the idea of any US assault on Afghanistan deeply alarming, let alone an operation launched from their territory.

See also:

20 Sep 01 | Americas
US reinforces Gulf firepower
16 Sep 01 | Americas
US prepares for war
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
19 Sep 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghan crisis
19 Sep 01 | Asia-Pacific
Tajikistan's new-found fame
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