Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the tasks of the first stage of the anti-terrorist operation in Afghanistan have been fulfilled. "At the initial stage, we set ourselves the task of liberating north Afghanistan and its capital, and this task has been accomplished," he said, speaking in a call-in show on the U.S. National Public Radio. According to the Russian leader, the situation in Afghanistan "has so far been developing the way we planned, the way President Bush planned, and the way we discussed this situation with him." "The Afghan people should now be given an opportunity to themselves liberate their territory and their people," the president said, adding that they must also be supported by aviation and special forces and be supplied with armaments and food. "As regards large-scale ground operations, there are no prerequisites for that now," Putin said. Asked by a listener about Russia's contribution to the counter-terrorist operation in Afghanistan, the president said that his country provides intelligence information, air corridors and "political support" for Central Asian countries "in assisting the U.S. Armed Forces." Besides, there is "a large, 22,500-strong ground force of the Russian Armed Forces" on the territory of Tajikistan. The presence of this force near the Afghan border is an important "stabilising factor" in the region, Putin said.
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