Russia said to be helping Taliban in Afghanistan

Russia may even be supplying the Taliban despite its denials

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 4:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 March, 2017, 4:01am

The top US general in Europe told lawmakers Thursday that Russia and the Taliban are growing increasingly close, suggesting that the Kremlin might even be supplying the insurgent group.

Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, who is also the Supreme Allied Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, did not elaborate to the Senate Armed Services Committee on what type of equipment the Taliban might have received or when.

Any type of material support, however, would be a significant escalation of Russia’s involvement with the Taliban; it has said in the past that it maintains only limited communication with the group.

“I’ve seen the influence of Russia of late, increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,” Scaparrotti said.

Much to the chagrin of US officials and military officers, Russia has justified its communications with the Taliban by saying the insurgent group is fighting the Islamic State in Afghanistan, not the US-backed Afghan government.

Army General John Nicholson, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, has decried Russia’s contact with the Taliban, saying that it has given cover to a group that has worked for years to undermine the United States and the government in Kabul.

Russia fought its own bloody war of attrition in Afghanistan in the 1980s, pulling out after suffering heavy losses from US-supplied insurgents.

“This public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact,” Nicholson told reporters in December.

On Thursday, the district centre of Sangin in Afghanistan’s restive south province of Helmand was overrun by the Taliban after months of heavy fighting with Afghan forces backed by US air support.

In recent months, the Taliban has steadily increased control over large swaths of the country, prompting Nicholson to suggest that thousands more troops are needed to help better train the Afghan military and reverse the “stalemate” in the country. His assessment was subsequently echoed by General Joseph Votel, the head of US Central Command.

Currently, about 5,000 NATO troops are in the country, in addition to the 8,400-strong American presence. US forces primarily support the Afghans through training and airstrikes while small contingents of Special Operations forces continue to conduct counterterrorism missions against the network of terrorist groups still located in the country.