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BEIJING (AP) — An independent think tank says China’s military is ramping up its security presence in Tajikistan with troop deployments amid fears that militants based in nearby Afghanistan could strike at western China.

The International Crisis Group said in a report Wednesday that China has deployed soldiers and built a “counter-terrorism center” in Tajikistan near the three-way border of Tajikistan, China and Afghanistan.

China has repeatedly warned about ethnic Uighur militants who have left their homeland in western China to join extremist groups such as the Turkistan Islamic Party, a predominantly Uighur group that has bases in Syria and Afghanistan and is allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban.

The Chinese defense ministry did not immediately respond to a fax seeking comment. Although the troop deployments are reported to be within a short distance from China’s western border, they could represent a new milestone for a Chinese military that has increasingly ventured abroad in recent years.

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In a message primarily aimed at China, the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said in February that it conducted airstrikes against militant camps in the country’s north, near the Tajik and Chinese borders, to “reassure neighbors” that the area would not be a safe haven for terrorists who want to carry out cross-border attacks.

China has encouraged Central Asian countries to play a bigger role in regional affairs as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, an eight-nation group dominated by China and Russia. Apart from stepping up security cooperation, China has funneled significant economic investment into Central Asia, a critical hub in President Xi Jinping’s Belt-and-Road infrastructure initiative connecting the Eurasian continent.

Beijing has also sought a bigger role in Afghanistan’s political future, pushing for settlement talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government.