A contingent of Russian troops has arrived in the Afghan capital, Kabul. This is the first visible presence of foreign troops in the war-ravaged city. The presence of troops from the country's former invader is raising curiosity about their mission in Afghanistan.
For the first time since Soviet forces withdrew 12 years ago, Russian soldiers are back in Afghanistan. An estimated 60 troops arrived in Kabul Tuesday. Dressed in camouflage and carrying rifles, the men are now guarding half a dozen military trucks in a field in a Kabul neighborhood.
The soldiers would not speak to reporters publicly, but one Russian says they are part of the military medical unit in Moscow's Ministry of Emergency Situations. Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supports the military action in Afghanistan, said Monday the ministry was dispatching staff members, construction crews and diplomats to Kabul for humanitarian work.
In Kabul, U.N. Spokesman Khaled Mansour says the Russians have not approached the United Nations about coordinating relief efforts. "They are here to rehabilitate their embassy and to provide some humanitarian assistance," he said. "I am not fully aware of the details, but I understand that they are coordinating with the Northern Alliance."
U.S. and British troops have deployed elsewhere in Afghanistan in the fight against Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaida organization and its Taleban allies. The western troops have helped the Northern Alliance swiftly regain control of more than half the country from the Taleban. But the Alliance has been resisting U.N. plans for deploying international peacekeepers to secure the Afghan capital and other cities that have fallen from Taleban control. Alliance Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah says the Russians would be welcome for a short period of time, but he indicates a prolonged presence could cause problems.
In 1979, the Soviet military entered Afghanistan and battled Afghan rebels opposed to communist leader, Babrak Karmal. The last Soviet troops left Afghanistan in 1989, ending a 10 year occupation that cost an estimated 15,000 Russian lives.