Despite failing to take Kunduz last week, the Taliban is advancing across Afghanistan, seemingly undeterred by U.S.-trained forces. Although a Russian return to Afghanistan seems unlikely, Central Asian officials have been making statements that could eventually justify Kremlin involvement. The Financial Times reports on the words of Kyrgyzstan’s prime minister, who claims his country is fortifying its borders, and Tajikistan’s president, who reportedly has expressed concerns to Putin about the skirmishes along his country’s borders. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, the members of which Moscow promises to protect. Russia could use that relationship to justify attacks against the Taliban.
Nor are these the only officials mentioned in the story: Afghanistan’s vice-president Abdul Rashid Dostum went to Russia and Grozny, “where he met Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. Mr Kadyrov wrote on his Instagram account that Kabul needed help from Russia — ‘as in Syria’ — to prevent Isis establishing a foothold…”
Just about the last thing the White House needs is Putin sending fighter jets to Afghanistan. Of course, Russia would have a tough time affording another war effort and, for all we know, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan are simply complaining about the Taliban as part of a Moscow-coordinated effort to make NATO look bad.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter says NATO is considering adjusting its Afghanistan withdrawal timeline, but the White House has not announced new plans. Ultimately, whether the Taliban truly threatens other countries or not, President Obama’s failure to stabilize Afghanistan gives a nice boost to the America-as-diminished-world-power narrative.