Russia eyes return to Afghanistan after US pullout

Russian defense officials are in negotiations with NATO to create a network of military bases in Afghanistan after the 2014 American withdrawal, according to recent news reports

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The Russian bases will be designed as repair and supply outposts for Afghan National Security Forces once those units take over security operations from departing American and NATO troops, Sergey Koshelev, head of the international cooperation directorate in the Russian defense ministry, said Thursday. 

“We will look into various options of creating repair bases on Afghan territory,” Koshelev told reporters, noting the supply bases could be the first step in increasing Moscow's presence within the alliance's postwar force. 

One expansion option, according to Russian NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko, would be to use the country's military to expand supply lines from Russia into Afghanistan via routes in the South Caucasus states bordering Iran and Afghanistan. 

Currently, the major supply lines available to withdrawing American and allied forces run through land routes in Pakistan, toward the country's port city of Karachi. 

The new Russian supply lines through places like Turkmenistan and Tajikistan would mostly support Moscow's proposed military bases, but could also be used by NATO members to support their postwar force. 

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph Dunford, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is reportedly backing a plan to station more than 13,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after 2014.

That American force would be backed by a 6,000 to 7,000-man NATO force, according to briefings by Dunford to House lawmakers earlier this month. 

The memories of Russia's own decade-long occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s undoubtedly influenced the country's renewed efforts to gain a foothold in the U.S. and NATO postwar strategy, according to Russia's Defense Committee First Deputy Chairman Sergei Zhigarev. 

"We remember very well the situation our troops found themselves in at the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border. This is why the stabilization in Afghanistan is very important for us,” he told Russian media outlets on Thursday. 

Russia is also planning to invest nearly $1 billion in Afghanistan to develop its electricity capacity and build out other infrastructure, according to a 2012 congressional report on postwar Afghanistan. 

As part of that effort, Russia will resume work on "Soviet occupation-era projects" left incomplete when the Red Army left Afghanistan in the late 1980s, the report adds. 

Soviet forces were beaten back by the Afghan mujahedeen, who were trained and armed by U.S. intelligence, and forced to retreat from the country in 1989. Many of those battle-hardened Afghan fighters later became top commanders within the Taliban and al Qaeda.