Mattis To Confront Russia Over Apparent Weapons Shipments To Taliban

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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Secretary of Defense James Mattis pledged Monday to confront Russia over allegations that Moscow has been funneling weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Army Gen. John Nicholson, the top commander for U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said he would “not refute” the claim that Russia is funneling weapons to Taliban insurgents at a news conference in Kabul, The Associated Press reports.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis, also in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit, pledged that the U.S. would start conversations with Russia on the subject of weapons funneling.

“We’ll engage with Russia diplomatically,” Mattis said, according to The Associated Press. “We’ll do so where we can, but we’re going to have to confront Russia where what they’re doing is contrary to international law or denying the sovereignty of other countries.”

“For example, any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law,” Mattis added.

A senior military official earlier Monday told reporters that Moscow was handing out machine guns to Taliban fighters. Those weapons, the military official continued, have surfaced in southern Afghanistan in provinces such as Helmand, Kandahar and Urzugan, in a situation reminiscent of the Cold War standoff between the U.S. and Russia over Afghanistan in the 1980s.

In late March, Army Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of CENTCOM, said that it’s “fair to assume” Russia is sending weapons to the Taliban.

“I think it is fair to assume they may be providing some sort of support to [the Taliban], in terms of weapons or other things that may be there. I believe what Russia is … attempting to be an influential party in this part of the world,” Votel said.

Taliban fighters have made major gains in Helmand, a province in which the U.S. military has lost a lot of blood.

Russia, however, maintains that its only contacts with the Taliban are for the purpose of persuading the fighters to come to a deal with the Afghan regime, along with some security operations.

And yet, The Washington Times reported in December 2015 that Russia no longer considers the Taliban to be the enemy and may partner with Taliban fighters for the purpose of combating the Islamic State. At the time, Russia said that it would begin shipping weapons to Afghan police in Kabul.

There are approximately 9,800 U.S. troops still in Afghanistan.

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