By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the Islamic State (IS) militant group has thousands of fighters in northern Afghanistan, as Moscow prepares to host international talks next week on the situation in the country.
“According to our intelligence, the number of (IS) members alone in northern Afghanistan is about 2,000 people,” Putin said on October 15 during a video address to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) summit of ex-Soviet states.
The Russian leader claimed the alleged IS fighters planned to move between ex-Soviet Central Asian countries disguised as refugees, in order to stir up religious and ethnic discord. He did not give details.
Earlier this week, Putin warned of the threat of veteran fighters from Iraq and Syria with IS links crossing into Afghanistan, while the Russian Foreign Ministry urged the Taliban rulers to deal with the threat.
Putin’s special envoy to Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, said on October 15 that next week’s talks would focus on trying “to work out a common position on the changing situation in Afghanistan.”
The United States, China, and Pakistan will join talks scheduled for October 19, Kabulov said, adding that the Taliban and other regional actors will join the meeting a day later.
He said the Taliban had yet to announce the composition of its delegation.
Kabulov said Moscow did not expect any “breakthrough solutions” but would “openly state our complaints to the Afghan delegation.”
The Taliban, which seized control of Kabul from the internationally recognized government in mid-August, is seeking international recognition and aid in order to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe as Afghanistan’s economy is in free fall.
After the Taliban takeover, Moscow voiced concern about the possibility of Islamist militants infiltrating the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, which it sees as its backyard, and has held military exercises in Tajikistan, beefing up equipment at its military base there.
Putin on October 15 said there was no need to rush with official recognition of the Taliban but noted that “we understand that we need to interact with them.”
Moscow fought a disastrous war in Afghanistan in the 1980s that killed up to 2 million Afghans, forced 7 million more from their homes, and led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet troops.