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Russia raises alarm about Islamic extremists in Afghanistan

May 21, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s top security chief on Tuesday raised alarm about Islamic extremists massing on Afghanistan’s northern border.

Alexander Bortnikov, chief of the main Russian intelligence agency FSB, said on a visit to Tajikistan that some 5,000 fighters of an Islamic State group affiliate have gathered in areas bordering on former Soviet states in Central Asia, saying that most of them fought alongside IS in Syria.

Bortnikov, in comments carried by Russian news agencies, called for tighter border control to prevent a spillover.

Russia has a significant presence in Central Asia including several military bases.

The IS affiliate in Afghanistan emerged in 2014 and refers to itself as the Khorasan Province, an ancient term for an area that includes parts of Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia. It has pledged allegiance to the IS group in Iraq and Syria but consists mainly of disgruntled former Taliban and other insurgents from South and Central Asia.

Russia has been expressing concern about the IS insurgency spilling over into Central Asia for several years. But some experts say the Kremlin is exaggerating the number of extremists to justify its outreach to the Taliban. In recent years, Russia has emerged as an influential power broker in Afghanistan where it fought a disastrous war in the 1980s. Russian officials have been mediating between feuding factions, and even spoke for lifting international sanctions against the Taliban.

The Taliban has waged bitter battles against the followers of the Khorasan Province, most often in eastern Nangarhar province but also in the north of Afghanistan.

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