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Afghan Defense Minister Visits Moscow - 2002-02-11


Afghanistan's interim defense minister, Mohammad Fahim, is in Moscow for talks with Russian officials. The seven-day visit is aimed at getting military assistance and help in rebuilding the country. The message General Fahim is bringing to Moscow is that Kabul's new government badly needs military assistance.

In an interview with Russia's Ria Novosti news agency ahead of his visit, the general said he intends to sign a series of agreements with Russia on buying a wide range of military hardware. Meetings are scheduled with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov, Chief of Staff Anatoly Kvashnin and with officials from Russia's military export sector.

Talks are also expected on ways Russia can help with non-military matters, including increasing relief assistance and rebuilding Afghanistan's agricultural base.

Russia has offered technical assistance in setting up health care facilities in Afghanistan's capital Kabul, where one Russian clinic has already been established. The Kremlin has also said it will help rebuild the Salang tunnel, which connects the north and south of the country.

Russia has not contributed troops to the international peacekeeping force now deployed in Kabul and has said it has no plans to do so.

General Fahim is the most senior Afghan official to visit Moscow since the interim government took power in late December. He became the military leader of the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance following the assassination in September of legendary leader Ahmad Shah Masood.

His new role as interim defense minister has given him the job of trying to build a new national army in Afghanistan -- one comprised of recruits from all the country's ethnic groups.

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