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Report: Russia to increase military aid to Afghan opposition

BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) -- Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said Moscow is ready to increase military-technical assistance to the Northern Alliance -- the Taliban opposition force in Afghanistan -- according to Interfax news agency.

"We have been supporting the Northern Alliance since 1996 and now I think this policy is starting to yield its results. Now we will continue and increase this assistance," the minister was quoted as saying to reporters on Wednesday.

Moscow has been helping the Northern Alliance because "the Taliban was openly supported by Pakistan," Ivanov said, according to Interfax. The Russian defense minister reportedly said that "until last week, Pakistani servicemen had taken part in war operations on the Taliban side."

CNN's Chris Burns reports from northern Afghanistan, where constant warfare confronts villagers (September 26)

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"The Northern Alliance still has a great number of Pakistani prisoners-of-war," Ivanov was quoted as saying. Last week, he said, "the Pakistani administration decided to change its attitude towards helping the Taliban."

Pakistan is the only world government that recognizes the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan after the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties. However, in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Pakistan has offered support to the U.S. campaign against terrorism.

U.S. and Pakistani officials continued to talk on Wednesday about what Pakistan may do to contribute to the campaign. Intelligence sharing and under what circumstances the United States would need access to Pakistani air space, and perhaps, Pakistani military installations, were important topics, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

Pakistan has previously said it will share intelligence with the United States and that Americans may fly over Pakistani airspace. But the Pakistani officials said the United States could only station equipment and troops inside the country as a last resort.

The Northern Alliance is composed of veterans of Afghanistan's war against the former Soviet Union who are opposed to the Taliban. The alliance is also is a patchwork of different ethnic groups, including Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras, while the Taliban are primarily Pashtun, which is the country's largest ethnic group.

The alliance is fighting on two fronts, one just north of the capital Kabul and the other in the country's mountainous northeast.

The United States does not recognize the Northern Alliance in any official relations although the group holds Afghanistan's seat at the United Nations. According to alliance officials, U.S. officials have increased contacts with the group.


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