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Russia Troops Back in Kabul
November 27, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - Twelve years after Soviet fighters were forced to withdraw in humiliation, armed Russian troops are back in Afghanistan, raising curiosity and some anxiety in the capital over the role international peacekeepers may play.

On Tuesday, Russian newcomers armed with rifles and dressed in camouflage guarded half a dozen mesh-covered military trucks in a field in Kabul's posh Wazir Akbar Khan neighborhood.

Hundreds of curious Kabul residents poured onto the field. Cars and trucks blocked the road as motorists stopped to look.

The Russians were not giving interviews, except to say they were a military medical unit from Moscow's Ministry of Emergency Situations.

One Russian soldier who refused to give his name said there were no doctors in the group, only other ``medical personnel.'' Another soldier, who identified himself only as Leonid, said he was one of 60 Russians now in Kabul.

The Russians are the first visible presence of foreign troops in the war-ravaged capital as the global community mulls over whether to send peacekeepers in to stabilize post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who supports U.S.-led military action in Afghanistan, said Monday that emergency ministry staff, construction crews and diplomats had been sent to Kabul for humanitarian work.

U.S. and British troops have been deployed elsewhere in Afghanistan in the fight against forces loyal to Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks, and his Taliban allies.

Dr. Abdullah, foreign minister of the anti-Taliban northern alliance, said foreign peacekeepers might be welcome for a short time, but any prolonged presence could incite emotions.

However, Kabul's residents seemed little more than amused by the Russian visitors. Some tried to get a closer look at them - but the soldiers shooed them away.

One Afghan tried to strike up a friendly conversation with the little Russian language he had learned during the Soviet presence in the 1980s.

Others stood around laughing. Wide-eyed, one man asked: ``Are the Soviets back?''

In 1979, the Soviet military rolled into this poor nation of 21 million people and battled Islamic opposition to Moscow's communist protege Babrak Karmal.

Initially, Russian helicopter gunships and bombers were able to fly low bombing missions and attack Islamic guerrillas with near impunity.

But in 1986, the United States gave their Islamic insurgent allies radar-guided anti-aircraft missiles, effectively turning the war around by forcing Soviet aircraft to resort to often-inaccurate high-altitude bombing. In 1989, the last Soviet troops left Afghanistan, ending a 10-year occupation that the Kremlin said cost it 15,000 lives.

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