The Islamic State’s increasing terrorist activities in the region have pushed Moscow and Kabul toward each other with Russia slowly stepping up to fill the vacuum left by the departure of U.S.-led NATO forces from the country. Afghanistan remains in political and social chaos with the Taliban looking to regain lost ground following NATO’s withdrawal, and now, the infamous Islamic State (ISIL) is looking to gain ground there by taking advantage of the unstable situation.
Kabul looking for new friends
On December 31, 2014, the United States formally concluded its International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) combat operations in Afghanistan. With the U.S leaving the region, Kabul has started to look elsewhere for assistance, especially in the area of military cooperation. After signing an agreement with India, according to which New Delhi will supply Kabul with four Indian Air Force Mi-25 gunship helicopters, Afghanistan has turned to Russia for military assistance to fight off militants.
Russia has responded positively to Afghanistan’s call for help and has vowed to continue supplying weapons to the Afghan military for free in order to defeat ISIL. Valentina Matvienko, Russia’s upper house speaker, held a meeting with the speaker of the upper house of the Afghan Parliament, Fazal Hadi Muslimyar, in which he reiterated Russia’s stance of helping Afghanistan modernize its air force. After the meeting, Matvienko said that Moscow will continue working closely with Kabul and supplying free weapons and ammunition to the Afghan military.
A mutual enemy
Russia is worried by the increased activities of ISIL in Afghanistan. Moscow believes that the Islamic State is looking to enhance its influence in Afghanistan and is vying to take control of some parts of the country in addition to taking disgruntled Taliban fighters under its wings. And the threat of these Taliban fighters joining ISIL has increased significantly since Russia started a war against the Islamic State in Syria.
One of the major worries for Russia with regards to ISIL is Central Asia. The region has seen a rapid rise in violent religious and extremist groups, something that has not been seen since the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Russia’s intelligence agencies have voiced concerns about the extremists from Central Asian nations returning to their countries after receiving combat training in Syria under ISIL. And if the Islamic State finds its footing in Afghanistan, it will pose a far greater threat to Tajikistan and Turkmenistan, which border Afghanistan. This could lead to a terrorist breakthrough into Central Asia, which is something Moscow would not want to deal with.
The rise of the Islamic State has gotten the Afghan government worried as well. With the resurgence of the Taliban, ISIL has spread to a number of Afghan provinces, and according to the Collective Security Treaty Organization, there are more than 3,000 Islamic State militants present and active in the country. This has alarmed Russia to a great extent, and the increased influence of ISIL in Afghanistan’s northern areas in particular has forced Moscow to work in close collaboration with the Afghan government in order to stop the spread of this venom.
Russian authorities believe that ISIL has gained a foothold in more than 20 provinces in Afghanistan, including the northern part of the country that borders Central Asia. The Islamic State is in control of more than 90,000 square kilometers (34,700 square miles), and the number of fighters working under the flag of the Islamic State ranges from 50,000 to 200,000 fighters, Sputnik International reports.
Afghanistan praises Russia’s support
Afghanistan has heaped praise on Russia for playing a major role in supporting Afghanistan. After his meeting with Russia’s upper house speaker on Tuesday, Muslimyar praised Moscow for its peace-building initiatives and its role in aiding his country in the fight against terrorism. He said that in the last decade or so, the world has realized that terrorism is a global threat, and the Afghan people are its biggest victims.