Russia's military support to Afghan Taliban rises: Report

Russia's military support to Afghan Taliban rises: Report

MOSCOW - Russia has allegedly paced up its assistance to the Taliban, who have increased their attacks in recent weeks.

An article in the Guardian reported that Afghan officials have requested Moscow to end its support for the militant group as foreign powers begin investing in securing their interests in Afghanistan once American troops leave. The commander of the Afghan army’s 207th Corps is just the latest in a string of officials to blame Russia for an uptick in violence.

“Many large countries are involved in the Afghan war. We can name Russia, who is actively meddling in Farah, and we have seized Russian-made weapons, including night vision sniper scopes,” the commander, Brig Gen Mohammad Naser Hedayat, said.

In comments reported by a local television channel, an officer of the local police requested the federal government to lodge an official protest with the Russian ambassador.

Afghanistan has been fought over by foreign powers since the 19th century, and the latest allegations of Russian involvement follow Moscow flexing it’s political and military muscles across the region, from Libya to Syria. According to Waheed Muzhda, a political analyst and former Taliban official, the Taliban has moved away from its roots in the 1980s anti-soviet resistance, especially following overtures from Moscow in 2005.

Muzhda believes that with power in Afghanistan divided among Kabul, the Taliban and a number of strongmen there are many oppurtunities for foreign powers to exert influence. “When Mr Trump pressures Iran, Russia and other countries, they will try to make problems for the US in Afghanistan,” he said. “That is part of the game in Afghanistan.”

While the extent of Russian involvement with the Taliban has not be determined, there are some theories regarding their purpose. Moscow is eager to limit extremism in post-Soviet central Asian states it considers within its sphere of influence. To this end, the Russian foreign ministry has been open about its history of sharing intelligence with the Taliban to aid it in its fight with ISIS in Afghanistan.

“Somebody is supplying a bunch of Russian-type weapons, including heavy machine guns and a small number of surface-to-surface missiles,” a western official said.

James Mattis, US Defence Secretary, has said that such actions would constitute to “a violation of international law”.

The spokesman for Abdullah Abdullah, who is the government’s chief executive, has said that while there are reports of an influx of Russian weapons, there was no certain information.

Both Afghan and western official do agree, however, that Russia has channels of communication with the Taliban. They point to a meeting between Russian representatives and Taliban chief Mullah Akhtar Mansour who was killed in an American drone strike. The rise of ISIS has given the Taliban and regional powers a common enemy in recent months.

Mansour has been credited with opening the movement up to external influence, by allowing local commanders to secure their own sources of funding. This has led to Taliban factions pursuing differing aims as countries such as Iran, China and Saudi Arabia court leaders of the militant group. Buying influence in Afghanistan has lead foreign countries to engage with a variety of groups.

A researcher working in a western organisation in Kabul, who is barred from speaking with the media, has accused Russia of supplying weapons to local chieftains in northern Afghanistan who are officially aligned with Kabul but whose loyalties are fluid and criminal dealings substantial. This claim echoes comments by a weapons smuggler who regularly crosses the Afghan-Tajik border to deliver weapons, including Russian Kalashnikovs.

The police chief of Baharak district added that he knew of several commanders who had collectively received hundreds of Russian machine guns. “Some of these people might join the Taliban, or will use the weapons for robbery and kidnappings,” he said.

Alexei Malashenko, a Russian analyst has cautioned against jumping to conclusions regarding Russian involvement. “What kind of weapons are we talking about? If we are talking about Kalashnikovs or grenade launchers then this kind of thing could come from anywhere,” he said. At the same time he was not surprised at links between the Taliban and the Kremlin. “There are different types of Taliban, and there are some who are fighting Isis, so why shouldn’t we speak to them? Without the Taliban, the Afghan state is not viable.”