CSTO Defense Ministers: We Prepare to Counter Terrorists from Afghan Soil

By: Amin Kawa

Following the Taliban’s takeover, Afghanistan has emerged as a source of security concerns for the region and the world. Major powers and regional countries have consistently warned about the country’s transformation into a haven for terrorists. The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), comprising members closely engaged with the Taliban, has expressed concerns regarding the presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan. During the organization’s meeting, the Russian Minister of Defense stated that terrorists have significantly fortified their positions in Afghanistan after the Taliban’s takeover. Referring to the country as a regional center of instability, he cautioned neighboring nations about the potential for terrorist actions. The CENTCOM commander had previously warned that terrorist attacks in European and Asian countries could be carried out by terrorists within the next six months. Nonetheless, the CSTO has affirmed its readiness to counter insurgent groups at the Afghan border.

The Council of Defense Ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) convened in Minsk, Belarus on Thursday, May 25. Chaired by the Defense Minister of the Republic of Belarus, the meeting included the attendance of defense ministers, Secretary-General Imangali Tasmagambetov, and Chief of the Joint Staff Anatoly Sidorov. Discussions centered around regional security threats and the execution of joint military exercises. The organization consistently emphasizes the presence of more than 20 active terrorist organizations with 10,000 fighters in Afghan territory. Notably, approximately 4,000 fighters have relocated to the southern borders of Afghanistan. Over the past two years, the CSTO has frequently voiced concerns about escalating security threats from Afghanistan to Central Asia. In a Press Release issued on Thursday, April 27, the organization highlighted the expanding scope of insecurity, terrorist threats, and drug trafficking from Afghanistan to Central Asian countries.

During the meeting of defense ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) in Minsk on Thursday, May 25, Sergei Shoigu, the Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, characterized Afghanistan as a center of instability. TASS news agency reported that the Russian Defense Minister stated, “Washington intends to exploit the capabilities of illegal armed groups in Afghanistan to disrupt the regional situation.”

The Russian official accused the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) of hastily withdrawing from Afghanistan and claimed that the organization aims to reestablish a military presence in the region. He added, “Instead of rebuilding Afghanistan after the hasty withdrawal, NATO countries are making various attempts to regain their military foothold in Central Asia.”

The Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation identified “illegal” armed groups as the primary threat to the stability of regional countries. He stated, “Afghanistan remains a center of instability. The main threat stems from illegal armed groups that have significantly strengthened their positions in the country following the Taliban’s takeover.”

Mr. Shoigu accused the United States of utilizing Middle Eastern militants in Afghanistan. In his statement, he expressed, “We believe that the United States intends to exploit the capabilities of these terrorist groups to destabilize the region. Consequently, they have organized the redeployment of militants from the Middle East to Afghanistan.”

The Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation has issued a warning about terrorist groups infiltrating neighboring countries of Afghanistan and stated, “In the future, these terrorist groups may infiltrate neighboring countries for terrorist activities.” Shoigu emphasized the need for coordinated efforts and joint exercises at the borders of Afghanistan, stating, “Given these circumstances, we believe it is crucial to coordinate efforts along the Afghan border and give due attention to bilateral and multilateral joint exercises.”

During the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Defense Ministers Meeting in New Delhi, Mr. Shoigu also issued a warning, stating that terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan have escalated their activities in Central Asia. He highlighted the expansion of operations by Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Afghanistan and their intentions to further infiltrate Central Asian countries. Russia, as a significant member of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) with close ties to the Taliban, has maintained its embassy in Kabul since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.

Moscow’s concerns arise in light of a previous report by The Washington Post, which cited leaked classified Pentagon documents, revealing that Afghanistan has become a hub for terrorism and ISIS coordination. The United States Department of Defense assessments indicate that ISIS aims to orchestrate attacks in Europe and Asia, utilizing Afghanistan as a launching pad. The Washington Post also highlighted a classified Pentagon document that discloses ISIS’s development of a cost-effective approach for external operations, leveraging resources beyond Afghanistan.

CSTO military drills near the Afghan-Tajik border

Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has conducted multiple joint military drills. The organization’s first joint military drills were held in October 2021, with participation from over 4,000 military personnel from member countries, as reported by the media. Subsequently, the second joint military drill took place on September 29, 2022, at the Afghanistan-Tajikistan border. During this exercise, the organization mobilized approximately a thousand troops and 300 types of military equipment to enhance the counterterrorism capabilities of member countries’ forces.

What is the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)?

The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) traces its origins back to the signing of the Collective Security Treaty on May 15, 1992, in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan were the signatories. Subsequently, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Georgia joined the treaty in 1993. At present, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan as its members.

An attack on a member of the CSTO is an attack on all members

According to Article 4 of the treaty that established the organization, any aggression against one member country by a state or group of states will be considered aggression against all treaty parties. In such a case, the other participating countries are obligated to provide necessary assistance, including military aid, and utilize their collective defense rights as outlined in Article 51.

The defense ministers of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) have expressed concerns regarding terrorist threats originating from Afghanistan. Previously, President Vladimir Putin of Russia had warned about the presence and consolidation of “overt extremist and terrorist groups,” including ISIS, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Tajikistan Jamaat Ansarullah (JA), and Al-Qaeda along the borders of Central Asian countries. During the 51st summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), he described the threats from Afghan soil posed by ISIS, Al-Qaeda, and other terrorist groups as unprecedented.

During the International and Regional Cooperation Conference on Security and Border Management to Combat Terrorism and Prevent Terrorist Movements, held on Tuesday, October 18, 2022, in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, President Emomali Rahmon called for the establishment of a “security belt” at the borders of Central Asian countries with Afghanistan. He expressed concern about the current situation, emphasizing the transfer of terrorists from war-torn Middle Eastern regions to other areas and the increasing presence of international terrorist organizations in Afghanistan, which has greatly alarmed the Central Asian countries.

However, the Taliban have consistently rejected these statements, with officials of the group asserting positive interactions with all countries and emphasizing that no threat from Afghan soil is directed towards neighboring countries. The acting Foreign Minister of the Taliban recently stated that their relations with neighboring countries are better than those of the previous government.