Vladimir Putin has been asked to help the Afghan government in its fight against Taliban insurgents.

In a clear signal of the worsening security situation in the war-torn country, President Ashraf Ghani has appealed for help from the Kremlin.

He asked Moscow for artillery, small arms and Mi-35 helicopter gunships for his country's stuggling military, according to officials.

Russian officials have said they are 'willing to help'.

His request comes after the US and the UK pulled out of the country in October last year - leaving behind military trainers working in a non-combat role.

The UK have also pulled out all their fighter jets - key assets which the Afghan security forces relied on without a strong air force themselves.

Relations with Moscow and the West are already strained after Russia joined in the war in Syria by bombing rebels against President Bashar Al-Assad.

If Moscow start helped the Afghan forces it is likely to add further fuel to the fire, as Putin tries to re-assert Russia's status as a world power.

A US official told the Wall Street Journal: 'Russia is seizing the opporunity.'

The move also reflects Russia concerns that the deterioration of security in Afghanistan could destabilise Central Asia - and bring Islamic extremism closer to its border.

Earlier this month at a summit in Kazakhstan, Putin said the situtation 'was becoming close to critical', with militant groups looking to expand their reach across the region.

He told other Central Asian leaders: 'It is important for us to be ready to react in concert to such a scenario.'

The last Red Army troops withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.

Alexander Mantytskiy, Russia's ambassador to Afghanistan, said his government is considering the Afghan requests for military assistance.

He said: 'We will provide some assistance, but it doesn't mean that any soldier from the Russian Federation will be here on Afghan soil.

'Why should we carry the burden of a problem that was not solved by the Americans and NATO countries?'

Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan's first vice president, has been at the forefront of efforts to reach out to Russia directly.

Mr Dostum met with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and other defense officials in Moscow this month to discuss possible assistance.

His spokesman Sultan Faizy described Russia's response to the request as positive, adding: 'General Dostum wanted Russia to pay attention to the situation in Afghanistan.

'Northern Afghanistan and countries allied to Russia are under threat — that is why Russia is willing to help.'

The former warlord also met Ramzan Kadyrov, the pro-Kremlin leader of Russia's Chechen Republic.

Mr Kadyrov said: 'Kabul needs the support of Russia, just like Syria.

'We expressed assurance that the leadership of Russia will take the appropriate response to this question.'

Courtesy Daily Mail