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Russia to Boost Troop Presence in Tajikistan

President Vladimir Putin says Russia will increase its troop presence in Tajikistan to counter what he claims are re-emerging threats from Taliban and al-Qaida terrorist networks in neighboring Afghanistan. Mr. Putin announced the plans while addressing military commanders in Tajikistan, Moscow's key ally in the region.

Touring a Russian military complex outside the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, Sunday, President Putin said a truly peaceful and stable Afghanistan was "still a very long way off."

He noted recent Russian intelligence reports that claim Afghanistan's Taliban movement and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida significantly stepping up their activities and rebuilding their terrorist networks.

President Putin said that as part of the anti-terrorism coalition formed after the September 11 attacks in the United States, it was up to Russia to improve and intensify its efforts to help contain the region.

The Russian president gave no specifics on the size of the troop buildup in Tajikistan, where Russia is believed to have nearly 20,000 troops based. Of that number, some 11,000 patrol the tense southern border with Afghanistan, a haven for the trafficking of terrorists and drugs.

President Putin's plea for a greater troop presence in Tajikistan was reportedly echoed in Moscow by Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Trubnikov.

Russia's Itar-Tass new agency quotes Mr. Trubnikov as saying the effectiveness of the operations conducted by coalition forces in Afghanistan were, as he put it, not very successful.

Moscow supported the U.S.-led effort to drive Afghanistan's Taliban from power after the September 11th attacks, but has no troop presence in Afghanistan proper. It also approved the stationing of U.S. troops in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan - the first ever U.S. troop presence in former Soviet Central Asia.

Moscow has made clear it wants the U.S. forces withdrawn from Central Asia, a traditional sphere of Russian influence, once anti-terrorist operations in Afghanistan are completed.

Following his trip to the Tajik military base Sunday, President Putin visits with the leaders of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan for a summit of the regional Eurasian Economic Community.