Russia, which no longer denies its engagement with the Taliban jihadists fighting American service members and the Islamic State, recently expressed dismay towards the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
In an exclusive interview, Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency asked Zamir Kabulov, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy to Afghanistan, whether he finds the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan “disturbing.”
The Russian official responded:
Of course; why should it not be disturbing for anybody? Why in Afghanistan? Where is Afghanistan and where is America!? If we did something like that in Mexico, would it not be disturbing for America? In Cuba, we have already experienced and we know the outcome. I think it is old fashioned.
Why are they doing that after all this 15-year-old anti-terror rhetoric in Afghanistan? They stupidly try to say that ‘it is for training.’
Come on! You are not talking to stupid or foolish people. We know the reasons [for the ongoing U.S. military presence in Afghanistan]. Russia will never tolerate this.
Late last year, an unnamed Taliban official told Reuters that the jihadist group has maintained “significant contacts” with Russia since at least 2007.
“We had a common enemy,” said the senior Taliban official. “We needed support to get rid of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and Russia wanted all foreign troops to leave Afghanistan as quickly as possible.”
“Their sole purpose was to strengthen us against the U.S. and its allies,” added the Taliban jihadist, referring to the Kremlin.
During the interview with the Anadolu Agency, Putin’s envoy conceded that Russia is open to cooperating with some factions of the Afghan Taliban.
“The Taliban is not homogenous. Within the Taliban, there are different wings with almost different ideological backgrounds,” he declared. “But the bulk, main leadership, current leadership, and the majority of Taliban now … became a local force. They gave up the global jihadism idea.”
In December, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova publicly acknowledged the contact between Russia and the Afghan Taliban involves intelligence-sharing and cooperation to fight their mutual enemy, the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
Russia had long denied news reports highlighting Moscow’s support for the Taliban.
A more recent meeting, per an account by the Sunday Times, was held between the former leader of the Taliban and Russian President Vladimir Putin in September 2015 for the purpose of collaboration.
Putin met [former Taliban chief] Mullah Akhtar Mansour in an unpublicized meeting at a military base in Tajikistan. The meeting was reportedly conducted to discuss mutual cooperation in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS). The Taliban denied that any such meeting took place. After Mansour was killed by a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, the Russians continued their contacts with the Taliban under Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the current leader of Taliban.
Russia’s support to the Taliban will have numerous implications for the future of Afghanistan. It will weaken the central government in Kabul, which will result in the situation that now has befallen Syria coming to Afghanistan. In Syria, Russia is supporting the government of President Bashar al-Assad, but in Afghanistan, by supporting the Taliban, Moscow will limit the success of the legitimate government in Kabul backed by the international community.
Kabulov declared that the U.S. war in Afghanistan has failed thus far.
“We expect that Donald Trump will tailor a new American approach to Afghanistan and he should address several issues which are a matter of concern not only to Russia, but important regional actors, like China, Iran, Pakistan, and others,” he told the Turkish news outlet.
“At the end of its failure, why does the United States want land bases in Afghanistan? We don’t have a clear-cut answer,” he added.
Putin’s envoy notes that the reason the U.S. wants to maintain military bases in Afghanistan is to keep tabs on nearby Russia, Central Asia, China, Iran, and Pakistan and “attack in case of need.”
“Having this [military] infrastructure [in Afghanistan] as [a] basis, America will need two to four weeks to redeploy up to 100,000 soldiers on the same bases,” noted Kabulov.
Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, has warned against Russia’s support for the Taliban.
“Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban,” he told reporters in December, adding, “This public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact, but it is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents.”