Russia Denies U.S. Assertion that Moscow Is Arming 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 has again dismissed remarks by the top U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan that Moscow continues to support and even provide weapons to the Afghan Taliban.

“We’ve had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and said this was given by the Russians to the Taliban,” U.S. Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander, told BBC.

In response, a statement from the Russian embassy in Kabul reportedly described the top U.S general’s comments as “idle gossip,” echoing denials by Moscow.

“Once again, we insist that such statements are absolutely baseless and appeal to officials not to talk nonsense,” added the embassy.

The Pentagon has repeatedly asserted that Russia is lending military support to the Taliban, an accusation that the Kremlin has denied at times.

In December 2015, Zamir Kabulov, a department chief at Russia’s Foreign Ministry and President Vladimir Putin’s special envoy on Afghanistan, did concede that “Russia has established communication channels to exchange information with the Taliban” to fight their common enemy, the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) in the region.

However, Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander, has rejected Russia’s argument that it is joining forces with the Taliban to combat ISIS, adding that Moscow is only seeking to undermine America’s efforts in Afghanistan.

Iran’s state-controlled Tasnim News Agency notes:

Russian officials have said that their limited contacts with the Taliban were aimed at encouraging peace talks and ensuring the safety of Russian citizens. Moscow has offered to help coordinate peace talks in Afghanistan.

Moscow has been critical of the United States and NATO over their handling of the war in Afghanistan, but Russia initially helped provide helicopters for the Afghan military and agreed to a supply route for coalition materials through Russia. Most of that cooperation has fallen apart as relations between Russia and the West deteriorated in recent years over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

Russia’s ally Iran borders Afghanistan. Gen. Nicholson has also accused Iran of supporting the Taliban.

An unnamed senior Taliban jihadi told Reuters in late 2016 that the “sole purpose” behind Russia’s support for the terrorist group “was to strengthen us against the U.S. and its allies.”

Mutual disdain towards the United States has also reportedly brought Iran and the Taliban together.

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