Russia is providing support to the Taliban in Afghanistan in an effort to undermine U.S. goals, Army Gen. Joseph Votel told Congress Wednesday.
Russia’s actions are a bid to “create a narrative” that the Taliban could be an effective partner in combatting Islamic State elements in Afghanistan. ISIS has a nascent chapter in Afghanistan which Russia worries will spread to its central Asian allies like Uzbekistan.
Votel told Congress he does not consider Russia’s actions “helpful” to U.S. goals in Afghanistan, adding that it is “fair to assume” Russia is helping the Taliban movement. Votel’s comments echo the concerns of top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Army Gen. John Nicholson, who told Congress in February: “Russia has become more assertive over the past year, overtly lending legitimacy to the Taliban to undermine NATO efforts and bolster belligerents using the false narrative that only the Taliban are fighting ISIL-K.”
“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,” Nicholson also told reporters in December.
Russia has 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 also snubbed the U.S. in February by not inviting them to a purported peace conference that only included Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, India, and Iran for talks.
The U.S. currently has nearly 10,000 troops in Afghanistan and is the main sponsor of the Afghan government.
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