In an exclusive interview, Gen John Nicholson said he’d seen “destabilising activity by the Russians”.
But the new claims come at a sensitive time in Russia’s ties with NATO powers.
Meanwhile, a US Congressional Intelligence Committee has just published a report concluding that Russian provocateurs meddled in the 2016 election.
“We see a narrative that’s being used that grossly exaggerates the number of ISIS [Islamic State group] fighters here,” Gen Nicholson told *BBC News*. “This narrative then is used as a justification for the Russians to legitimise the actions of Taliban and provide some degree of support to the Taliban .”
“We’ve had stories written by the Taliban that have appeared in the media about financial support provided by the enemy. 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 ,” he continued. “We know that the Russians are involved.”
Much of Gen Nicholson’s career has been spent in the conflict in Afghanistan . He narrowly escaped death when his office in the Pentagon was destroyed by one of the 9/11 planes and the US campaign in Afghanistan has shaped his career ever since.
He believes this direct Russian involvement with the Taliban is relatively new. He says Russia has conducted a series of exercises on the Afghan border with Tajikistan. “These are counter-terrorism exercises,” says Gen Nicholson, “but we’ve seen the Russian patterns before: they bring in large amounts of equipment and then they leave some of it behind.”
The implication is that these weapons and other equipment are then smuggled across the border and supplied to the Taliban .
The general admits it is hard to quantify how much support Russia is actually giving the Taliban , but senior Afghan police officers and military figures have told the *BBC* that it includes night vision goggles, medium and heavy machine guns as well as small arms.
Afghan sources say these weapons are likely to have been used against Afghan forces and the NATO advisers who support them on some combat missions.
However, Russia is not an obvious ally of the Taliban . The Soviet Union fought a bitter war against the US-backed mujahedin after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Many of those same mujahedin fighters joined the Taliban when it was formed during the civil war that followed the humiliating Russian withdrawal in 1989.
It may be that now Russian and Taliban interests are becoming more closely aligned, she speculates.