Mattis’s Frank Accusation Has Russia Outraged

(DOD photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Brigitte N. Brantley)

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Saagar Enjeti White House Correspondent
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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reacted harshly Tuesday to Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s accusation that Russia is funding the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Mattis’s comments came during a surprise visit to Afghanistan Monday, where U.S. military officials believe Russia has been funding the Taliban for quite some time. Mattis said the U.S. was “going to have to confront Russia where what they’re doing is contrary to international law,” continuing that “any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law.”

Lavrov blasted Mattis, saying his comments were “an attempt to divert attention from some plots concerning the Syrian issue,” adding “these are unprofessional declarations based on nothing.”

“I am confident that those in the United States who are paid for supplying their national leaders with reliable intelligence know only too well that these allegations are untrue.”

U.S. military officials say Moscow’s cooperation with the Taliban is conducted under the guise of conducting counter-terrorism operations against the Islamic State.

“Their [Russia’s] narrative goes something like this: that the Taliban are the ones fighting Islamic State, not the Afghan government,” commanding U.S. General in Afghanistan John Nicholson 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.”

Russia’s efforts may be working. The Taliban has made unprecedented gains across the country since the Obama administration ended the U.S. combat mission in 2014. Nearly 7,000 Afghan Security Forces were killed in combat last year, and both U.S. generals agree thousands more U.S. troops are needed to turn the tide of battle against the insurgent group.

The U.S. has spent tens of billions of dollars training the Afghan forces, but the latest U.S. government audit reveals that “the Afghan government cannot survive without continued donor financial assistance.”

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