Milley Holds Talks With Russian General09/22 06:20
HELSINKI, Finland (AP) -- The top American military officer held talks
Wednesday with his Russian counterpart as the United States struggles to secure
basing rights and other counterterrorism support in countries bordering
Afghanistan -- an effort Moscow has opposed.
The daylong session in the Finland's capital between Gen. Mark Milley,
chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, chief of
the Russian General Staff, comes at a crucial time after the U.S. military
withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Without troops on the ground, the U.S. needs to reach more basing,
intelligence sharing and other agreements to help monitor al-Qaida and Islamic
State militants in Afghanistan.
Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, had said in July that
Moscow warned the U.S. that any deployment of American troops in countries
neighboring Afghanistan "is unacceptable." He said Russia told the U.S. "in a
direct and straightforward way that it would change a lot of things not only in
our perceptions of what's going on in that important region, but also in our
relations with the United States."
Ryabkov also said that Russia had a "frank talk" with the Central Asian
countries to warn them not to allow U.S. troops within their borders.
Milley declined to provide details of the meeting to reporters traveling
with him to Helsinki. His spokesman, Col. Dave Butler, said the meeting would
last all day and is "military focused."
"Both sides seek increased transparency to reduce misunderstanding and
increase stability," Butler said. "The meeting is serious, both generals
display mutual respect for each other though both have taken opportunity to
quip or joke on occasion."
Both sides agreed not to disclose details of the talks, as has been the
practice in previous meetings and calls.
But just a few days ago, Milley made it clear the basing issue was a key
topic on his European trip, saying he discussed it with NATO counterparts when
they met in Greece over the weekend.
Milley, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and American intelligence
officials have warned that al-Qaida or IS could regenerate and pose a threat to
the United States in one year to two years.
U.S. military leaders have said they can conduct counterterrorism
surveillance and, if necessary, strikes in Afghanistan from military assets
based in other countries. But they acknowledge that surveillance flights from
bases in the Persian Gulf are long and provide limited time in the air over
Afghanistan. So the U.S. and allies want basing agreements, overflight rights
and increased intelligence-sharing with nations closer to Afghanistan, such as
Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan.
So far there are no indications of any progress. Moscow maintains a tight
grip on the Central Asian nations and opposes a Western presence there.
The U.S. used the Transit Center at Manas, in Krygyzstan, for a large part
of the Afghanistan war, moving troops in and out of the war zone through that
base. Under pressure from Russia and its allies, however, Krygyzstan insisted
the U.S. vacate the base in 2014.
The U.S. also leased Karshi-Khanabad, known as K2, as a base in Uzbekistan
for several years after the Afghanistan war began. Uzbekistan ordered the base
closed in 2005 amid tensions with Washington, and the Defense Ministry
reaffirmed in May that the country's constitution and military doctrine rule
out the presence of foreign troops there.
It's unclear whether there is any potential for negotiations with the
Russians to encourage them to lessen their objections to U.S. or allied
presence in the region. But Russian officials also have expressed concern that
the Taliban takeover could destabilize Central Asia, and they worry about a
growing threat from IS.
Milley's meeting with Gerasimov, and broader discussions about
counterterrorism this week, come on the heels of a deadly U.S. airstrike in
Afghanistan in the final days of the chaotic evacuation of Americans, Afghans
and others. The U.S. initially claimed the drone strike killed an Islamic
extremist looking to attack the Kabul airport, but now says it was a mistake
that killed 10 civilians, including seven children.
The incident triggered questions about the future use of drone strikes to
target terrorists in Afghanistan from beyond the country. But Gen. Frank
McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, said that while that airstrike was a
"tragic mistake" it was not comparable to future counterterror strikes.
Future strikes on insurgents deemed to pose a threat to America, McKenzie
said, would be "done under different rules of engagement" and there would be
more time to study the target.