Russian, Tajik defence ministers discuss response to Afghan conflict risks - TASS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Tajik counterpart Sherali Mirzo on Saturday discussed joint measures to counter threats from the Taliban in the Tajik-Afghan border area, the TASS news agency reported.

Russia on Friday pledged to help its ally Tajikistan to build a new outpost on the border, amid a worsening conflict in Afghanistan as U.S.-led troops withdraw after a 20-year intervention. The two countries will also hold major drills next month.

"The parties discussed the situation in the Tajik-Afghan border area and joint measures to neutralise threats related to the escalating situation in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan," TASS quoted the Russian ministry as saying following the phone conversation.

Russia operates a military base in Tajikistan, a former Soviet republic, whose government has expressed concern about the rapidly deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of Afghan servicemen crossed the border into Tajikistan earlier this month in retreat from an offensive by Taliban insurgents who, taking advantage of the foreign troop pullout, have seized a series of districts and border posts.

Tajikistan later sent back the Afghan servicemen as the Kabul government arranged special flights to return them.

Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, another Central Asian republic bordering Afghanistan, will hold joint military drills close to the Tajik-Afghan border next month. Moscow has already started delivering new hardware to its Tajik base to reinforce it.

(Reporting by Polina Ivanova; Editing by Olzhas Auyezov and Clelia Oziel)

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