Russia beefs up Tajik base, warns of ISIS fighters in Afghanistan

MOSCOW, July 28 (Reuters) - Russia said on Wednesday it was beefing up the combat capabilities of its military base in Tajikistan and training local soldiers, as Moscow warned that Islamic State militants were moving into neighbouring Afghanistan.

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, who was in Tajikistan on Wednesday for talks, said the security situation had rapidly deteriorated in Afghanistan amid a U.S. troop withdrawal.

That withdrawal has prompted Moscow to prepare for a potentially major security challenge on the edge of its Muslim-majority Central Asian backyard.

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In particular, Moscow has expressed alarm over what it has described as the growing strength of Islamic State elements in northern Afghanistan.

Shoigu said that Islamic State fighters were moving into Afghanistan from Syria, Libya and several other countries.

"What's more, in some parts, we can also see that these movements are quite seriously organised," Shoigu was quoted as saying by the RIA news agency.

Calling the U.S. troop exit "hasty", Shoigu said that Moscow was training Tajik military personnel at Russian military universities and facilities affiliated with the military base it operates in Tajikistan.

"We provide everything needed for military training," Shoigu was quoted as saying.

"We are paying increased attention to strengthening the combat capabilities of our base and refining plans to jointly repel possible insurgent infiltration," he said.

A senior Russian diplomat has said that Moscow views Taliban gains in northern Afghanistan as having a security upside because the group is hostile to what Russia regards as more dangerous Islamist extremists. read more

Russia is set to hold military drills on Aug. 5-10 near Tajikistan's Afghan border. It has said the exercises will involve more than 1,000 Russian soldiers as well as Uzbek and Tajik forces.

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Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Tom Balmforth Editing by Andrew Osborn

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