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The BBC's Andrew Harding reports
"At least four senior Russian officials have now publicly raised the possibility of air strikes against Afghanistan"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 24 May, 2000, 11:30 GMT 12:30 UK
Russia threatens Afghan air strikes
Chechen fighters
Russia says the Taleban is backing Chechen rebels
Russia is prepared to launch air strikes against Afghanistan in certain circumstances, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has said.

Moscow has accused Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement of training Islamic rebels in Chechnya and plotting to export its radical brand of Islam to former Soviet states in Central Asia.

Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden: Russia suspects he is involved in supporting Chechen rebels

The logistics of military strikes have been fully worked out, Russian Defence Ministry sources say.

"If the relevant political decision is taken, the strikes would follow immediately," Interfax news agency quoted sources as saying.

The sources added that no other military action had been envisaged.

"There are no plans to use ground forces," they said.

The Kremlin has accused the Taleban and suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden of pledging in recent meetings to support the Chechen guerrillas.

Security summit

Top Russian leaders - including President Vladimir Putin, Mr Ivanov and Defence Minister Igor Sergeyev - are in the Belarusian capital Minsk for talks on security co-operation with several ex-Soviet states.

Russian soldier
Tajikistan relies on Russian soldiers for border security

Former Soviet republics in Central Asia bordering Afghanistan are especially concerned about the possible spread of radical Islam - worries shared by Russia.

President Putin showed the importance he attached to the issue by making Central Asia his first trip after his inauguration.

Russian television reports have been quoting sources in the Tajik capital Dushanbe as saying there are several guerrilla training camps in Afghanistan not far from the Tajik border.

"Thousands of potential terrorists are training there under Taleban auspices," Russia TV said.

Tajikistan relies on Russian border guards to maintain security and stop smuggling on its southern borders.

Denial

On Tuesday, the Taleban rejected Russian charges that it was planning to send fighters and weapons to Chechnya.

The Taleban Foreign Ministry spokesman Faiz Ahmad Faiz told a news briefing that the allegations were baseless.

However, he said the Taleban would continue to give the Chechen rebels diplomatic support.

Mr Faiz added that there were no training camps in Afghanistan and no resources to support the Chechens.

The Taleban have warned that they will "hold Uzbekistan and Tajikistan responsible" for any strikes by Russia.

The last Soviet troops pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989 after a decade of fighting Islamic guerrillas opposed to the then Moscow-backed regime in Kabul.

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See also:

23 May 00 | South Asia
Taleban defends Chechnya stance
10 May 00 | Europe
Defiant Maskhadov warns Moscow
02 May 00 | South Asia
Uzbek president raps Afghanistan
13 Jul 98 | South Asia
Taleban warns neighbours
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