Russia, NATO to Resume Cooperation on Afghanistan as IS and Taliban Call Truce

Afghanistan (SCF) – As the world public attention is riveted on breathtaking events in Syria, another terror threat emerges elsewhere. This is a matter of grave concern calling for immediate action.

After more than a year of fierce combat, the Islamic State and the Taliban, have forged a patchwork cease-fire across much of eastern Afghanistan that has helped both insurgencies regroup and counter efforts to dislodge them.

Islamic State commanders have tried to cultivate cordial ties with the Taliban. In Kunar, for example, Islamic State (IS) fighters have approached Taliban members for talks about their mutual ambition to establish an Islamic system of law.

There was much ballyhoo about the success of a joint Afghan-US operation launched in February.

It did not achieve much, actually. The militants have regrouped and regained the lost ground. NATO-trained Afghan forces only control about two-thirds of the country’s territory, overrun by Taliban. The truce enabled the Islamic State to regroup and concentrate on engaging Afghan forces in Nangarhar and Kunar provinces, which used to be al-Qaeda’s stronghold.

After the Russian task force in Syria launched a vast air campaign against IS targets and struck a heavy blow to its oil infrastructure, officials say that the issue of controlling heroin routes in Afghanistan became even more important for the terrorist group. According to the Russian Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), terrorists have been making $1 billion a year from Afghan heroin.

The US has recently stepped up the military efforts in Afghanistan, involving heavy airstrikes and operations targeting commanders.

On July 27, John Nicholson, commander of the US Forces in Afghanistan, announced that Washington would deploy an additional military contingent to the Nangarhar province to support the operation. If that doesn’t result in success, within a month Afghanistan will see a ground war operation with the participation of US soldiers, said the commander in his interview with the Washington Post.

There have been no tangible results as yet.

The emerging alliance would be a serious setback for the US and NATO. This is a problem that would weaken the chances of the Democratic candidate in the US presidential race.

Under the circumstances, the Afghan government has submitted its request for repairs and service of its Mi-35 helicopter fleet.

Faced by the growing threat, it badly needs Russian weapons.

Russia and Afghanistan are in discussions over various formats of delivering Russian Mi-35 Hind attack helicopters to Kabul, said Zamir Kabulov, the head of the Second Asian Department of the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Russia insists, the deal should be implemented on a commercial basis.

In another interview, Mr Kabulov said, there are signals coming from NATO that the alliance is willing to resume the cooperation with Russia on Afghanistan.

This is a drastic shift of policy that has gone almost unnoticed by media.

During his visit to Russia this August, Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the Afghan national security advisor, called on Russia to resume military ties with Afghanistan as the situation deteriorates.

Afghan Border Police in Herat Province, Afghanistan. Image Source: Daniel Wilkinson (U.S. Department of State) Public Domain

Afghan Border Police in Herat Province, Afghanistan.
Image Source: Daniel Wilkinson (U.S. Department of State) Public Domain

He said, his government would welcome the resumption of Russia-NATO cooperation on Afghanistan. It is also interesting that he also mentioned the important role the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has to play in crisis management in the country.

Actually, the Afghan official acted as a mediator between Russia and NATO offering to start cooperation on the alliance-to-alliance basis. So far, NATO has rejected to hold a dialogue on Afghanistan with the SCO.

Russia should play a constructive role in the international efforts to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan, a NATO official said on August 1 after signals emerged of potential NATO-Russia cooperation there.

The recent Russia-NATO Council’s session was held on July 13. Russia offered to include Afghanistan into the agenda but NATO refused. It was a gross miscalculation. The reality shows that no major victory can be achieved without Russia in the fight against terrorism neither in Syria, nor Afghanistan, nor other places where the extremists have strongholds.

Like in Syria, a dialogue is indispensable. Russia did not break it. It has always said, the differences on Ukraine aside, Russia and NATO should continue cooperation on major security issues. It was suspended upon the initiative of NATO in 2014. Now the alliance is seeking ways to rectify the situation and make up for its own mistakes.

The first step on the way of unfreezing the cooperation could be getting back to the Helicopter Maintenance Trust Fund Project, which was launched by the Russia-NATO Council in April 2011 to build capacity in the Afghan Air Force (AAF) to operate its helicopter fleet more effectively.

Maintenance training, which had previously focused on Mi-17 helicopters, will now be offered for Mi-35s. The NATO mission could help the Afghan government finance the attack helicopter deliveries and training programs as agreed previously.

The new developments in the global fight against terrorism prompt resumption of Russia-NATO cooperation. According to the statements of Russian officials, Russia is ready to meet the alliance halfway.

It’s up to NATO to make the first move.


This report prepared by Alex Gorka for Strategic Culture Foundation.