HARB-MAIDON TRAINING GROUND, Tajikistan (Reuters) – Soldiers from Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan used new Russian firearms, flamethrowers and surface-to-air missile launchers in military drills which concluded on Tuesday just 20 km (12 miles) from the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border.
Moscow and its Central Asian ex-Soviet allies have held two separate sets of military exercises close to Afghanistan this month as Taliban militants overran much of the country’s northern provinces directly adjacent to Central Asia.
Tajik Defence Minister Sherali Mirzo told reporters at the training grounds the drills were being held with Afghanistan in mind.
“The situation in Afghanistan is unpredictable,” he said.
Shukhrat Khalmukhamedov, chief of the general staff of the Uzbek armed forces, said that “this situation requires us to remain vigilant and to maintain our combat readiness”.
The drills involved 2,500 servicemen, hundreds of armoured vehicles and 25 aircraft. The Russian forces involved came from the military base located in Tajikistan – Moscow’s biggest facility abroad.
Russian Central military district commander Alexander Lapin said the showcased weaponry would remain at the Tajik base.
Taliban fighters tightened their control of captured territory in northern Afghanistan on Tuesday as residents hid in their homes and a pro-government commander vowed to fight to the death to defend Mazar-i-Sharif, the biggest city in the north.
(Reporting by Nazarali Pirnazarov; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Nick Macfie)