NATO cooperation must be resumed to prevent chaos in Afghanistan – Russia's chief of General Staff
The Afghanistan situation will likely worsen as NATO troops withdraw and focus on fighting ISIS, says Gen. Valery Gerasimov, Russia's chief of General Staff. He urges the revival of international cooperation in the region to avoid a worst-case scenario.
“Taking into account the decision by the US political leadership to withdraw its contingent from Afghanistan before the end of 2014, we project – with high probability – a significant worsening of the situation in this country, including the transition of control over certain areas to terrorist groups," Gerasimov said.
The current events in Iraq and Syria, as well as the emergence of the Islamic State group (IS, also known as ISIS/ISIL), may lead to “possible exception of Afghanistan from the focus of attention of [the] West and other states, which may compromise the security of the entire Central Asian region,” he warned.
During a meeting with military attachés from foreign countries in Moscow, the chief of Russia's General Staff offered to “bring back to life the pre-existent mechanisms of international cooperation between the concerned countries to avoid the development of the situation in Afghanistan according to the negative scenario.”
Cooperation between Russia and NATO on Afghanistan was halted earlier this year on the initiative of the US and its allies, as part of sanctions imposed on Moscow over the events in Ukraine.
Gerasimov also called the Islamic State “a key element of radical Islam in the Middle East region,” which continues to increase in number and gained territory.
“According to our estimations, the Islamic State formations acting in Syria and Iraq comprise [of] up to 70,000 militants of various nationalities,” he said.
In September, the CIA estimated the number of militants fighting for ISIS at between 20,000 and 31,500.
Last month, Kurdish forces – which are also battling the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq – said they are being opposed by 200,000 jihadists.
“It is worth noting that it was the US that previously provided this group with financial and technical aid to its struggle against the Syrian government,” Gerasimov said, as quoted by Sputnik news agency.
‘NATO build-up near Russian border justified by fairy tales’
The General Staff chief criticized NATO for intensifying its build-up near Russian borders in recent months, calling such actions ill-founded.
“Ground-, sea-based and air forces of the alliance have stepped up their activities in Poland, the Baltic region and in the Black and Baltic seas,” he stressed. “Military exercises and drills explained by contrived fairy tales of [a] ‘threat from the east’ have also intensified.”
Several NATO member states bordering Russia have asked to increase the presence of NATO troops on their territory, citing security concerns over the Ukraine crisis and Russia’s alleged involvement in it.
The West is “seeking to turn Ukraine into a source of long-term controlled instability that directly damages Russia’s geopolitical interests and integration processes in the post-Soviet space,” Gerasimov said.
The US and its allies are trying to create an image of Russia as a “blunt aggressor against Ukraine,” which doesn’t correspond with reality.
The West is trying to present “primitive graphic fakes, posted on the internet and in social media, as irrefutable proof for the active participation of Russian troops in an internal civil conflict on the territory of [Ukraine’s] Donetsk and Lugansk regions," the general stressed.
Gerasimov said that according to such provocative claims, there should be at least 8,500 Russian tanks and armored vehicles, 1,200 pieces of artillery, and 1,900 multiple rocket launchers in eastern Ukraine at the moment.
"Everybody here are military professionals. So, I hope you understand that hiding such a large combined-arms grouping on a relatively small area where journalists and OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) monitors are working freely is impossible, even hypothetically. Please keep in mind that this area is also under constant monitoring by the Western means of space surveillance,” he said.
According to Gerasimov, the only Russian military units in Donbass are members of the mission aimed at helping the sides involved in the Ukraine conflict reach a compromise in the de-escalation of the crisis.
“Representatives of Russian Armed Forces have been sent to Debaltsevo, Donetsk Region, at the request of [the] chief of Ukraine’s General Staff of the Armed Forces, Viktor Myzhenko,” Gerasimov said.
The Russian military’s delegation in eastern Ukraine, headed by the deputy commander of Land Forces, Lieutenant General Aleksandr Levtsov, has been taking part in negotiations since September, he added.
According to the general, the Russian mission’s task is to “assist together with [the] OSCE to the conflicting sides, which are the Ukrainian military and the self-defense forces, in finding a compromise on [the] de-escalation of tension and withdrawal of troops from the contact line.”
Ukraine has been engulfed in internal conflict since April, when Kiev’s army began its crackdown on the southeastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, after they refused to recognize the country’s coup-imposed authorities.
The United Nations estimates that the death toll in the Ukraine conflict has exceeded 4,300 people, with around 10,000 others wounded.
The warring sides agreed to a ceasefire during talks in Minsk, Belarus on September 5, but the truce is continuously violated on a daily basis.