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Russian Officials Meet Anti-Taleban Leaders - 2001-09-23

Leaders of the anti-Taleban alliance in northern Afghanistan have held meetings with various Russian officials in Tajikistan. The meetings appear to be an effort by Russia to play a larger role in the anti-terrorism coalition led by the United States.

Russian news agencies report that the Russian military's chief of staff attended the meetings, held in the capital of Tajikistan.

The Northern Alliance's senior commander, Muhammad Fahim, was present at the talks, which came amid reports of heavy fighting against the Taleban in northern Afghanistan.

The Alliance is the only opposition group which has held out against the Taleban, who control most of Afghanistan.

Russia and other Central Asian states have long supported the Alliance because they feared the Taleban was spreading its extremist ideology into the region.

That support may now become more public as the United States prepares possible military action against the Taleban and alleged terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden.

Mr. bin Laden is the prime suspect in the September 11 terrorist attacks in the U.S., and the Taleban have refused American demands to hand him over.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held telephone conversations with the leaders of the Central Asian republics to discuss the situation. He also talked at length with President Bush.

All regional leaders have expressed support for the anti-terrorist effort.

Ironically, leaders of the Northern Alliance originally fought against Moscow during the long Soviet intervention in Afghanistan during the 1980s.