Russian sources have asserted that US officials are seeking to recruit Russian veterans who fought in Afghanistan to join the international coalition forces attacking the Taliban government.
The sources said the US Defense Department is offering a salary of $5,500 to volunteers for a tour of duty in Central Asia. They added that the US military attach? in Moscow is advertising this offer on the Internet and looking for persons with combat experience in hot regions. They noted that the Russian military establishment is dismayed by this effort.
While the Russian and US governments are asserting the extensive scope of the agreement on confronting terrorism and the need to liquidate al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan, contradictions over other aspects of the crisis are emerging. These include the position toward the Taliban government and the true nature of the relationship with the Northern Alliance forces in Afghanistan. The Pentagon and US State Department, Russian sources say, believes in the need to go back to the situation that existed prior to the Soviet invasion of the country in 1979. Under this scenario, former King Mohamad Zaher Shah and the various ethnic groups and
nationalities in Afghanistan would be represented together with the moderates in the Taliban Movement.
The alliance led by deposed President Borhannodin
Rabbani, which has the support and backing of the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin himself, believes that it is impossible to restore the monarchy. This alliance is relying primarily on the ethnic groups that are close to Central Asia, that is, the Tajiks and Uzbeks. It agrees
with Putin’s remarks “that there is no place for the Taliban in the anticipated coalition government” in Afghanistan. The government of Tajikistan supports this position.
These contradictions are apparently one of the reasons that the Northern Alliance forces have failed to launch much of a military attack in Maza-e-Sharif and at Kabul. Northern Alliance officials have also griped about the inconsistencies in the levels of US support. The Russian sources said Washington is playing the card of the contradictions between the commonwealth countries.
While Moscow relies primarily on Dushanbe (Tajikistan), the forces of General Mohammad Fahim in northeast Afghanistan, and the forces of Gen. Ismail Khan in Herat province in western Afghanistan, the United States is concentrating its efforts on backing Gen. Abdol Rahid Dostum’s forces. US aircraft are therefore attacking the positions that will help the forces of the Uzbek general
advance. This is putting the Tajik forces in the alliance in an embarrassing position and is forcing them to operate without US air cover and is even subjecting them to the dangers of air strikes, like the 22 October incident when the Tajik positions in northern Afghanistan were bombarded.
Despite the official statements about Moscow’s blessing for the US presence in Central Asia, there are apprehensions that Uzbekistan “might weaken” under the current pressure from the United States, which recently
announced the allocation of $8 billion for the agricultural sector there.
The pro-Moscow Tajikistan is meanwhile standing nearby content with the presence of the “201st Battalion” of the Russian border guards.
Russian sources have revealed that the military establishment and the general staff are apprehensive about the possible bolstering of the US military presence in the region and NATO’s expansion in Central Asia that
this would entail, which might include extending the US missile shield cover to them. This is in addition to the danger of the commonwealth’s collapse and the decline of Russia’s influence in the former Soviet Union’s empire in Central Asia. The sources said the general staff commanders broached this subject with President Putin before he left for the Shanghai summit.
This is apparently one explanation for Moscow’s admission for the first time through Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov that Russia supported and continues to support the Northern Alliance forces and also his statements about supplying these forces with T-55 tanks and heavy armored vehicles, which cost around $50 million.