Afghan Government Spokesman: Reports Say Russia Is ‘Arming the Taliban’

Russia has officially provided military hardware for Afghan forces, but simultaneously propped up the Taliban with arms, official and insurgent sources say
AFP/NOORULLAH SHIRZADA

Russia appears to have provided their former enemy the Afghan Taliban with “improved weaponry” as U.S. and Afghan officials have suggested, video footage obtained by CNN purportedly shows.

“The Russians have said that they maintain contact with the Taliban, we have lots of other reports from other people they are arming the Taliban … there is no smoke without fire,” Sediq Sediqi, a spokesman for the Afghan government, told CNN. “That’s why our intelligence agencies are up to the job to find out what level of support that is to the Taliban.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the recent allegations, but has previously dismissed claims that the Kremlin is arming the Taliban as “absolutely false,” adding that the accusations are intended to cover for the United States’ failure in Afghanistan.

The Kremlin claims its relationship with the Taliban is solely intended to promote peace negotiations.

However, the Taliban reportedly claims that the “sole purpose” of their relationship with Russia is to expel the United States from Afghanistan.

The U.S. military and the Afghan government have long accused Russia of arming the Taliban, which is responsible for the majority of casualties sustained by civilians, local security forces, and foreign troops in the war-devastated country.

Taliban jihadists are believed to control more territory now than during any other time since the U.S.-led NATO coalition removed the group from power in 2001.

Referring to the footage it obtained, CNN reports:

These two videos show sniper rifles, Kalashnikov variants and heavy machine guns that weapons experts say are stripped of any means of identifying their origin.

Two separate sets of Taliban, one in the north and another in the west, claim to be in possession of the weapons, which they say were originally supplied by Russian government sources. One splinter group of Taliban near Herat say they obtained the guns after defeating a mainstream rival group of Taliban. Another group say they got the weapons for free across the border with Tajikistan and that they were provided by “the Russians.”

Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, the deputy leader of the Taliban splinter group, told CNN the Russians gave the Taliban the weapons “via Iran” to help them combat the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL), a common justification behind the arming of the terrorist group, which Moscow denies.

In January, American Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of the U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, told Pentagon reporters that Russia, Iran, and Pakistan are all backing the Taliban.

Echoing the commander that same month, Hayatullah Hayat, the governor of southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, also said Iran and Pakistan are assisting the Taliban, adding that the Islamic Republic has even given rockets to the terrorist group.

Helmand borders Pakistan.

Gen. Joseph Votel, the chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), told lawmakers in March, “I think it is fair to assume they [Russia] may be providing some sort of support to [the Taliban] in terms of weapons or other things that may be there.”

CENTCOM oversees U.S. military activity in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

In April, Gen. Nicolson said the U.S. military does not refute reports that Russia is arming the Taliban.

That month, Russia hosted its second round of Afghan peace negotiations without inviting the United States to participate.

CNN acknowledges that weapons experts from the Small Arms Survey determined that there was little evidence in the obtained footage to directly link the military equipment to Russia.

However, Benjamin King from the Small Arms Survey conceded that “the weapons didn’t seem to have the manufacturer markings where we would expect them,” noting that “elsewhere there have been reports of supplying governments and others going to great lengths to remove identification markings from weapons.”

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