WASHINGTON --- There is mounting evidence that Chinese ground troops are operating inside Afghanistan, conducting joint counter-terror patrols with Afghan forces along a 50-mile stretch of their shared border and fueling speculation that Beijing is preparing to play a significantly greater role in the country's security once the U.S. and NATO leave.
The full scope of China's involvement remains unclear, and the Pentagon is unwilling to discuss it. “We know that they are there, that they are present,” a Pentagon spokesman said. Yet beyond a subtle acknowledgement, U.S. military officials in Washington and in Kabul would not respond to several detailed questions submitted by Military Times.
This dynamic stands in stark contrast to the two sides' feisty rhetoric over their ongoing dispute in the South China Sea, and to Washington's vocal condemnation of Russian and Iranian activity in Afghanistan. One explanation may be that this quiet arrangement is mutually beneficial.
Both the Chinese and Afghan governments have disputed reports of joint patrols inside Afghanistan. Those first surfaced late last year when India's Wion News published photos claiming to show Chinese military vehicles in a region called Little Pamir, a barren plateau near the border. Reuters, an international news agency, also recently documented the development.
The vehicles were identified as a Dongfeng EQ 2050, which is the Chinese equivalent of a U.S. Humvee, and a Norinco VP 11a, which are like the mine-resistant MRAPs developed by the U.S. military last decade. China maintains that while its police forces do conduct joint counter-terrorism operations along the border, based on existing bilateral agreements between the two nations, the People's Liberation Army does not.
But then there's this peculiarity: In January, Chinese media circulated a report about Chinese troops allegedly rescuing a U.S. special forces team that had been attacked in Afghanistan. The story is likely bogus propaganda, and U.S. officials in Afghanistan say no U.S. personnel have been part of any operations involving Chinese forces, but it would seem to underscore the two countries' shared interest in combating terrorism there. (end of excerpt)
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