The new alignment of forces in Afghanistan: why Russia is helping the Taliban

In April of this year, just two days before the attack by the Taliban on the Afghan army barracks in Mazar-I-Sharif killed 140 soldiers, the commander of us forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson (John Nicholson) has officially confirmed what were previously considered rumors: Russia, according to the Pentagon, provided Afghan rebels with weapons and other equipment. “We continue to receive reports about such assistance,” said Nicholson. And when an American journalist asked him a direct question: “do You not deny that Russian supplied weapons?”, replied: “of Course I do not deny it”. His statements were almost immediately confirmed by U.S. Secretary of defense James Mattis (James Mattis), who was on a visit to Kabul.

Since then, the hostility between Russia and the United States this relatively minor region only increases, but the Russian presence will become more noticeable. In December, Moscow has confirmed that contacts with the Taliban, exchanges information and cooperates in the fight against ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in Russia — approx.ed.). According to Reuters, the Russian military and Taliban representatives have met several times in Moscow and Tajikistan, and one of former field commanders of the Taliban, which refers to Reuters, these contacts began in 2007.

“We had a common enemy. We needed support to get rid of the US and its allies in Afghanistan, and Russia wanted all foreign troops as possible were withdrawn from Afghanistan,” — said the Agency interlocutor, adding that things were “moral and political support”, but not the supply of arms. It’s not like American military strategists, who believe that such contacts provide legitimacy to the actions of the Taliban. “It turns out that the Taliban, not the Afghan government troops are fighting with ISIS. Thus, public legitimacy that Russia provides to the Taliban, is used to undermine the positions of the Afghan government and NATO’s efforts and serves to reinforce the rebels,” said Nicholson.

But now accusations from Afghanistan and the United States have become much more sharp. “A senior American soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, commenting on the intelligence on this issue, indicated that over the past half year, Russia increased its supplies to the Taliban outfit and light weapons,” writes The Washington Post in an article published in late April. “The military has indicated that Russia has supplied to the Taliban secondary and heavy weapons, on the assumption that it will be used to fight ISIS militants in Eastern Afghanistan. But instead, the weapon appeared in some southern provinces of Afghanistan, including Helmand and Kandahar, where the presence of ISIS not very much”.

And the alarm was sounded not only by the Americans. In late February, the police chief of Kunduz province said that Russia built a training base for the Taliban where they are trained in modern methods of warfare. At the beginning of the month, the Governor of the County of Dashti Archi (North Kunduz province) Nasruddin, Saeedi (Nasruddin Saeedi) argued that the rebels had received light weapons, MANPADS, ammunition and money from the other side of the border. Some time later, General Assadula Sherzad (Assadullah Sherzad), the chief of police of the Northern provinces, said that the Russian delegation was seen with other bases of insurgents near the Pakistan border. “Saw them in the training camps of the Taliban with the Pakistani military,” said one of the Afghan media. “Came out, people claim to have seen the delegation together with the Taliban. But no information about whether they promised to help the Taliban and to supply them with weapons,” confirmed Afghan parliamentarian Nadia Khan Katawazi (Nadir Khan Katawazi). There is also evidence of people who came from the southern province of Uruzgan.

“Unhealthy imagination”

The official representative of Russian foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova called the allegations “unhealthy fantasies”, while recognizing that “there are only some contacts and they are carried out to ensure the security in this country, Russian citizens and to stimulate the process of national reconciliation”. With regard to the alleged visit of the delegation, stated that she visited Miranshah, the capital North Waziristan (Pakistan). “The visit was at the invitation of our Pakistani partners. Delegation had not traveled outside of the city, not to mention a visit to a training camp of the Taliban in neighboring provinces of Afghanistan,” — said the Russian foreign Ministry in a communiqué. For its part, the special representative of the Russian President for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said: “It doesn’t even deserve any response, because these allegations were fabricated, to justify the failure of the military and US politicians in the Afghan campaign. There is no other explanation we can not find”.

The same opinion and senior researcher of the Russian Institute for strategic studies Ivan Ippolitov. “Given the fact that the Taliban successfully resisted the Americans for many years, and accusations of their support, addressed to Moscow, was made relatively recently, during the reduction of us troops in the country, the Russian position seems to me more convincing,” he said in an interview with El Models. “The allegations by senior us military are heard especially often at the beginning of 2017. This is due, firstly, with the internal political situation in USA where, after winning Donald trump’s accusations against Russia reach the point of absurdity. Secondly, the situation in Afghanistan. Here, from the beginning of 2017 major military successes of the Taliban (taking the Sanguine, the spring Taliban offensive, which was dealt a severe blow to Mazar-e-Sharif, etc.) became obvious and demanded explanation.”

Russia has a powerful argument in their defense: U.S. has not released any evidence of these alleged weapons transfers. “No one has presented any evidence to justify it. I’m sure that those Americans, who are paid for providing leadership to their country with the help of reliable intelligence, are well aware that it’s a lie,” said the Minister of foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey Lavrov.

Ippolitov gives another reason for American claims. “Apparently, realizing that the situation in Afghanistan is increasingly getting out of control, the US increasingly fear the increased efforts of other countries, including Russia and China, to reach a peaceful agreement. As for weapons, Washington remembers how many problems he created at the time the Soviet troops, supplying anti-government Afghan forces (of which, by a strange coincidence, and originated the current Taliban) weapons, finances, providing them with military training and creating a network of drug production. Now the US is scary something like that, and at the same time they are looking for excuses for your failures” — says the expert.

Dragunov sniper rifle and anti-tank guns?

And yet the opposite of evidence is growing. In the middle of last month the correspondent for the Fox News channel in Kabul Holly McKay (Hollie McKay) reported that, the stories of some of the residents of Kunduz, unmarked helicopters arriving from Tajikistan, landed in areas controlled by the Taliban, and the courts on the river Amu-Darya contraband came a strange cargo. McKay also quotes Afghan observer Silaba Brazier (Silab Mangal), with ties among the rebels: “the Success of the Taliban in the North became possible thanks to Russian support. The province of Kunduz, about 30 miles from the Afghan-Tajik border under the control of the Taliban. Here you can get Russian financial help and equipment, and the wounded can heal,” says Mangal, adding that, according to some sources, Russia has supplied the Afghan rebels Dragunov sniper rifle and anti-tank rifle PTRs-41.

The discussion, among others, turned in that moment, when the Pentagon intends to request the dispatch about three thousand troops to Afghanistan to 8 thousand 400 soldiers already stationed in the country. Many experts are skeptical consider this step, arguing that if the U.S. failed to bring stability to Afghanistan with 100 thousand soldiers, the more impossible to achieve sustainable results with additional contingent of several thousand people. Especially when the Taliban already control more than half of the country. Some analysts believe that we are talking about trying to quickly reverse the situation to a better view of the upcoming peace talks with the Taliban, which already seem inevitable. But in this game Russia is playing is absolutely your script, very different from Washington.

Why Russia has re-emerged interest in Afghanistan? “Due to geographical proximity. Instability in the country creates constant problems for the leadership of post-Soviet States of Central Asia, neighbours and allies of Russia. And Afghanistan is a kind of Mecca for radical elements from all over the world, including from Russia,” — emphasizes Ippolitov.

In addition, unmanaged Afghanistan means increasing the volume of heroin flooding the markets. “Everyone knows that Afghanistan produces the largest amount of opiates in the world, which is then distributed across the planet. But in foreign countries the less you know about the huge damage that Afghan drugs caused in the post-Soviet period population and economy of Russia”, — says Ippolitov. For many years Russia was ranked first in the world ranking of the consequences from heroin. The former head of the Federal drug control service Victor Ivanov cited some data showing that the number of deaths from drugs among young people in the 12 times higher than the European average, and the income of drug traffickers more than the combined spending on defense and health care.

“It will be recalled that after the invasion of the international coalition in Afghanistan led by the United States in 2001, drug production in this country has increased a lot. In short, Russia has good reasons to be seriously interested in resolving the Afghan issue,” — said Ippolitov. No doubt. But now the question arises: how far are willing to go Moscow to affect the situation? As is often the case in the shadowy world of special operations, a clear answer to this question is no.