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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 00:01 GMT
Kabul in arms talks with Russia
Russian-built tanks and new national army recruits in Kandahar
Afghanistan needs to update Soviet-era equipment
Afghan Defence Minister General Mohammad Fahim is in Moscow for talks aimed at securing hardware for Afghanistan's fledgling national army.

Mr Fahim will meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov on Monday and will also hold talks with other senior defence and security officials during his week-long visit.

He is the most senior member of the interim Afghan government to visit Moscow since the six-month administration took office in December.

"We intend to sign a series of agreements with the Russian defence ministry on purchasing various equipment and components," he told the Russian news agency RIA.

The interim government is seeking to reconstruct a national army to replace the current patchwork of tribal militias.

Afghan Defence Minister, General Mohammad Fahim
General Fahim: Facing the difficult task of reconciling rival militias
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt in Moscow says Russia may also offer to provide military advisors on rebuilding the Afghan army, as Moscow is keen to reassert its influence in the region.

Mr Fahim will meet the Russian chief of staff, General Anatoly Kvashnin, on Tuesday.

An ethnic Tajik, Mr Fahim became military commander of the Northern Alliance after the assassination of its legendary leader Ahmad Shah Masood last September.

Our correspondent says most Afghan soldiers are already familiar with Russian arms - the Kalashnikov is the most common weapon in Afghanistan, while almost all tanks and armoured personnel carriers in the country came from Russia.

Old ally

In the 1970s the former Soviet Union equipped and helped train the Afghan army, and many Afghan military commanders still speak Russian.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 with the help of pro-communist forces, but withdrew 10 years later under severe pressure from the mujahideen guerrillas.

In recent years Moscow has supplied General Fahim's Northern Alliance troops with arms and equipment in their fight against the Taleban.

The Afghan interim government has also been talking to Britain and the United States about help in reshaping its forces.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"The interests here definately do coincide"
See also:

21 Jan 02 | South Asia
Afghanistan looks to form new army
24 Dec 01 | South Asia
Afghan warlord given top job
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