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WASHINGTON – Russia is getting ready for the exit of Western troops from Afghanistan at the end of 2014 with the creation of battalion-size counter-insurgency tactical groups as part of a rapid deployment force out of concern over the possible rise of Islamists and their impact on Russia’s own northern Caucasus Islamist militants, according to a report in Joseph Farah’s G2 Bulletin.

The creation of the battalion counter-insurgency tactical groups is part of the general military reform that Moscow is undertaking. Such battalions will be located in the four revamped military districts in a “permanent readiness” status.

Their formation also is part of a recognition of what the Russians perceive to be a worsening insurgency developing in the North Caucasus, with Islamists coming in from Central Asia.

The Russian General Staff is quite concerned over what is seen as a deteriorating security situation in the North Caucasus as Sunni Islamist militants have stepped up attacks on Russian security forces in Russia’s southern-most provinces which are predominantly Muslim.

The militant leadership there even has declared the region a Caucasus Emirates while ethnic Russians increasingly are leaving the region.

In addition, Russians generally are concluding that the region should be split off from the rest of Russia, a notion Putin already has dismissed, saying that other ethnic groups then also would demand splitting from Russia.

Critics of the new formation of rapid battalion tactical groups say there generally is a lack of high combat readiness among the ground forces brigades which Aleksandr Sharavin, director of the Political and Military Analysis Institute, described as essentially still a “Soviet army.”

“We are changing the shape but the substance remains as it was,” Sharavin said. “For all the innovations introduced over the last four years, our army remains essentially a Soviet army.”

The regular brigades still have personnel shortages and do not reflect a “permanent readiness.” According to sources, some brigades lack from 30 percent to 50 percent of required personnel, and lack the latest equipment and ammunition.

These Russian sources say that shortfalls include the lack of soldiers with essential military skills including mechanics, drivers, gunners, and grenade launcher operators, among others – all areas in which the General Staff measures combat readiness. These shortages also are serious at tactical and company levels.

It is possible that the creation of battalion tactical groups as a rapid deployment force will receive priority for the needed equipment and training to make Russian forces more capable.

They will have to deal primarily with expected regional problems including the increasing Islamist militant threat from the North Caucasus. The existing problem with the militants there will be further exasperated by the expected spread from Afghanistan once forces of the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization leave at the end of 2014.

For the Kremlin, this Islamist threat from the North Caucasus could have an impact on security preparations for the 2014 winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in close proximity to the Islamic North Caucasus regions.

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