Russia and U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism Iran continue to provide weapons and other military aid to Taliban jihadists in Afghanistan, reiterates United States Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, repeating accusations made by the United States armed forces.
During his first visit to Afghanistan since U.S. President Donald Trump unveiled a new South Asia strategy last month, Secretary Mattis discussed the ongoing 16-year-old war in Afghanistan with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, and American Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander of U.S. and international troops in the conflict-ridden nation.
The Pentagon chief blasted Russia and Iran’s continued support to Taliban jihadists, echoing concerns previously expressed by U.S. officials, including Gen. Nicholson, who has also noted that Pakistan is assisting the terrorist group as well.
“Those two countries have suffered losses to terrorism, so I think it would be extremely unwise if they think they can somehow support terrorism in another country and not have it come back to haunt them,” declared Mattis, referring to Iran and Russia, reports the Wall Street Journal (WSJ).
Support from Russia and Iran is strengthening the Taliban and lending legitimacy to the jihadist organization, notes the newspaper, citing unnamed U.S. military officials.
“That’s a lot more dangerous right now than what they’re providing in terms of material,” a military official told the WSJ.
Afghanistan’s neighbor Iran, which the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) recently said “remains the foremost state sponsor of terrorism,” has also dismissed accusations that it is providing sanctuary to the Taliban.
In December 2016, Gen. Nicholson told Pentagon reporters that the United States is concerned about the “malign influence of external actors” in Afghanistan, such as “Pakistan, Russia, and Iran,” noting that the countries are assisting the Taliban.
The general explained:
Russia has overtly lent legitimacy to the Taliban. And their narrative goes something like this: that the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the [U.S.-backed] Afghan government… 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.
Soon after the top U.S. general made those remarks, Reuters learned from unnamed Taliban fighters that the jihadist group had maintained “significant contacts” with Russia since at least 2007, long before ISIS came into the scene.
An anonymous senior Taliban fighter told Reuters that the “sole purpose” of their cooperation with Russia is to push the U.S. military and their allies out of Afghanistan.
The Taliban alleges that Russia’s support is only “political.”
As part of President Trump’s new South Asia strategy, the United States has authorized the deployment of 3,000 additional American troops, bringing the total in Afghanistan to 14,000.
The Trump plan to end the 16-year-old war in Afghanistan is “determined” to force the Taliban to the peace negotiation table, said Gen. Nicholson.
Moreover, Trump’s plan is expected to pressure Pakistan to no longer harbor terrorist groups fighting and killing Americans in Afghanistan, including the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and their ally the Haqqani Network, among others.
In other words, the Trump administration has not set any timetables to draw down its forces, choosing to wait until it accomplishes its goals instead.
Gen. Nicholson has welcomed the changes, recently telling reporters the Taliban leadership has “atomized” as a result, reveals the WSJ.
“For years, they thought we were leaving,” he added, noting that new U.S. and NATO commitments have eliminated that notion.
Although the Taliban remains the most prominent terrorist group in Afghanistan, ISIS has strengthened its reach and influence in the country in recent months.
The Taliban contests or controls 45 percent of Afghanistan, reported the Long War Journal this week, echoing assessment by the U.S. military and the terrorist group itself.
Terrorists launched a rocket attack on the Kabul international airport soon after Mattis landed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, allegedly targeting the Pentagon chief.
The incident is a testament to the deteriorating security conditions Trump inherited from his predecessor.
Both the Taliban and its alleged rival ISIS have reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack.