World News

Russia says "surge" won't fix Afghan security

KABUL (Reuters) - A surge of foreign troops into Afghanistan would not solve its security problems and countries with troops there need to focus more on development and the economy, Russia’s foreign minister said on Monday.

Sergei Lavrov, speaking during a rare visit to Kabul, added that foreign troops under NATO and the U.S. military command needed to listen to the Afghan government and “act with its agreement.”

The actions of foreign troops have been a source of friction between Afghanistan’s government and its Western backers, with civilian casualties outraging ordinary Afghans. President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly asked foreign troops to take more care when carrying out raids and air strikes.

Lavrov, speaking through a translator at a joint news conference with Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta, emphasized Moscow’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan and the need to consolidate fresh ties between Moscow and Kabul.

“The main result of our talks today was that we agree to consolidate further our relations in future and that the threat that exists in the region should be dealt with in a joint campaign,” he said.

The former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, pulling out a decade later after losing thousands of troops fighting mostly Western-backed Afghan guerrillas.

But Russia remains deeply concerned about the country, worrying that Islamist militancy could spread from Afghanistan through the fragile ex-Soviet states of Central Asia toward its borders, and is eager to re-engage with Kabul.

The Kremlin will invite Afghanistan, along with neighbors Iran and Pakistan, to a regional security conference in Moscow later this month, Lavrov said.

He said Moscow was there to provide help for Afghanistan in “all dimensions,” but did not elaborate. He added that Russia would continue to allow its territory to be used by foreign forces to ship non-military supplies to Afghanistan.

“We are in a sensitive place,” Spanta said when asked to comment about Russia’s role in stabilizing Afghanistan.

“Russian Federation is an important, major and powerful world country. Afghanistan believes that without Russia’s cooperation, peace in Afghanistan will be impossible.”

Russia has sent some 18,000 tons of food aid since last year to Afghanistan and given about $100 million worth of military spare parts and equipment for the Afghan army since the Taliban’s ouster, according to a foreign ministry official.

U.S.-led forces overthrew the hardline Islamist Taliban in 2001, but are struggling to bring security as a Taliban-led insurgency gains strength.

The new U.S. administration is sending an extra 17,000 soldiers this year to bolster the 70,000 foreign troops already deployed.

Editing by Alex Richardson