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Kabul looks to Russia to rearm

ghan army
Afghanistan's new national army wants to attract recruits from all ethnic groups  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Afghanistan's interim Defence Minister Mohammad Fahim is holding talks with the country's former foe Russia to secure military arms for its fledgling national army.

Fahim was due to have talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov on Monday, on obtaining military hardware and help in reconstructing the war torn country, Russian news agencies reported.

Russia has offered technical assistance in setting up health care facilities in the Afghan capital Kabul and repairing the key Salang Tunnel connecting the country's north and south.

The former superpower unsuccessfully occupied the central Asian country during the 1980s.

CNN's Matthew Chance reports on Afghan interim Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim's talks with Russia, the country's former foe, to secure arms (February 11)

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But it was a key ally of the Northern Alliance in its long-running battle against the Taliban.

Last year, Moscow supplied about $34 million worth of arms to anti-Taliban forces, Interfax reported, quoting military sources.

The supplies were mostly Soviet-era materiel, including armoured vehicles, transport helicopters, anti-tank cannons and other weapons, the news agency added.

Afghanistan's interim government is now seeking spare parts and new contracts to replace other ageing equipment, Interfax said.

Fahim, who arrived on Sunday for a seven-day visit, is the most senior member of the interim Afghan government to visit Moscow since the six-month administration took power in December.

Afghanistan's national army is to be formed from recruits from across the country and all ethnic groups.

"We badly need to resume purchases of Russian military hardware and equipment," Fahim told Russia's Ria news agency at the weekend ahead of his visit.

"We intend to sign a series of agreements with the Russian Defence Ministry on purchasing various equipment and components as well as a wide range of rear support facilities for our armed forces."

Fahim is due to meet the Russian Chief of Staff General Anatoly Kvashnin on Tuesday.

During his stay he will also hold talks with officials from Russia's military export sector, news agencies added.

Fahim, an ethnic Tajik, became military chief of the Northern Alliance, which helped oust the fundamentalist Taliban, after the assassination in September of its legendary leader Ahmad Shad Masood.

The Afghan official, who is believed to speak Russian, is also expected to press Moscow's foreign ministry and the emergency situations ministry, to step up relief supplies, rebuild its devastated agriculture sector, and help dispose of thousands of landmines scattered across the country.


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