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Afghanistan Rejects Russian Call For U.S. Troop Withdrawal

FILE: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, July 2015.
FILE: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan, July 2015.

Kabul has rejected Moscow’s call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops amid a debate in Washington over its future commitments to Afghanistan.

Afghan presidential spokesman Najibullah Azad said he opposes the call by Russian presidential envoy Zamir Kabulov for the withdrawal of U.S. forces after Kabulov claimed their 16-year campaign had come to nothing.

“The U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has an important role in the fight against terrorism in the region,” Azad told Radio Free Afghanistan on August 15. “They are here because of our bilateral security agreement and in line with international law to help the Afghan forces.”

Kabulov, a seasoned Russian diplomat, has been involved with Afghanistan for decades. He told Russia’s Izvestia daily that Moscow was not opposed to a U.S. military presence there but is now calling for its withdrawal.

“The American campaign in Afghanistan has failed,” he was quoted as saying by the Kremlin-funded RT television channel. “Afghanistan risks becoming a global incubator of international terrorism. It has, in fact, already partially grown to become it.”

Azad, however, termed such demands as brazen interference in Afghan affairs. He called on Moscow to clearly spell out its demands.

“Russia needs to specify the concerns it has over the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan,” he said.

The Kremlin appeared supportive of U.S. efforts in Afghanistan until a few years ago, when Russian President Vladimir Putin praised it for taking on the “burden” of fighting terrorism.

But, in recent years, Moscow has gradually extended its opposition and competition with Washington to Afghanistan. In addition to directly reaching out to the Afghan Taliban, Moscow has attempted to work with an array of Afghan power brokers and regional states including Iran and Pakistan. Afghan officials frequently accuse the two of supporting the Taliban.

In an interview late last year, Kabulov outlined his country’s threat perception from the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan by questioning its scope.

“In Turkey, they have only one base. [But] in Afghanistan, they have the right to use nine big military bases plus almost 10 more,” he told Turkey’s Anadolu news agency. “Why? If we did something like that in Mexico, would it not be disturbing for America?”

Afghan security officials, however, disagree. General Daud Amin, a senior Interior Ministry official, says a rapid withdrawal of U.S. forces would be disastrous for his country.

“It will precipitate a new war in Afghanistan, which will see Russia directly interfering here to protect its interests,” he said.

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