The Russian government is cooperating with the Taliban terrorist movement in Afghanistan under a broader strategy to undermine U.S. goals and make a peaceful exit as difficult as possible, The Wall Street Journal reports.
Moscow’s cooperation with the Taliban is conducted under the guise of conducting counter-terrorism operations against the Islamic State. ISIS has a nascent presence in Afghanistan, and has historically clashed with the Taliban. “I have already said earlier that we and the Taliban have channels for exchanging information,” a high Russian official told The Washington Post in 2015.
Afghanistan’s security and political situation is increasingly deteriorating. After former President Barack Obama ended the U.S. combat mission in 2014, the Taliban made unprecedented gains across the country. The Afghan Security Forces the U.S. is supposed to be supporting in the fight against the Taliban are monumentally corrupt, and losing thousands of soldiers per month.
“Their [Russia’s] narrative goes something like this: that the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the Afghan government,” America’s top General in Afghanistan told reporters in a December Pentagon briefing. He continued, “This public legitimacy that Russia lends to the Taliban is not based on fact, but it is used as a way to essentially undermine the Afghan government and the NATO effort and bolster the belligerents.”
The strategy is reminiscent of U.S. strategy in Afghanistan in the 1980’s, when the U.S. supplied weapons to anti-soviet rebel groups in a bid to entrench the Soviet Union in a prolonged conflict. The U.S. supplied hundreds of millions of dollars of weapons to rebel groups for nearly 8 years. In some cases the weapons ended up in the hands of Islamic extremists, and were used by the Taliban to take over the country in the late 1990’s. Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson spearheaded the funding for the program and became intimately involved. His experiences were later dramatized in the film Charlie Wilson’s war.
Russia has also stymied efforts by the U.S. backed government in Kabul to fold a former terrorist into the peace process. The Afghan government offers a reconciliation program to terrorists willing to stop waging war against them, in exchange for ability to participate in the political process. A crucial element of this process involves removal of a former terrorist from the United Nations sanctions list, something Russia has used its power to stop.
Russia’s strategy in Afghanistan is remarkably similar to its course of action in Syria. Russia supports Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad under the auspices of a counter-terrorism mission, when in reality they get to reassert itself on the global stage and maintain a steadfast ally. In Afghanistan, Russia can thwart U.S. efforts towards a peaceful exit and gain influence with important actors who are U.S. enemies.
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