Russia is arming the Taliban in Afghanistan, the head of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan told the BBC in an exclusive interview.
In the interview, Gen. John Nicholson criticized Russia’s “destabilizing activity” and said that Russian weapons were being smuggled across the Tajikistan border and into the Taliban’s hands.
“We see a narrative that’s being used that grossly exaggerates the number of ISIS [Islamic State group] fighters here,” Nicholson told BBC News. “This narrative then is used as a justification for the Russians to legitimize the actions of Taliban and provide some degree of support to the Taliban.”
“We’ve had stories written by the Taliban that have appeared in the media about financial support provided by the enemy. We’ve had weapons brought to this headquarters and given to us by Afghan leaders and said, this was given by the Russians to the Taliban,” he added. “We know that the Russians are involved.”
Nicholson said Russia’s involvement with the Taliban is newly founded, and that Russia has conducted a number of exercises with Tajikstan and left equipment behind, which ends up in the possession of the Taliban.
“These are counter-terrorism exercises,” Nicholson told the BBC, “but we’ve seen the Russian patterns before: they bring in large amounts of equipment and then they leave some of it behind.”
Afghan police officers and military service members told the BBC that some of the equipment left behind includes night vision goggles, as well as medium and heavy machine guns and small arms.
“This activity really picked up in the last 18 to 24 months,” Nicholson said. “Prior to that we had not seen this kind of destabilizing activity by Russia here. When you look at the timing, it roughly correlates to when things started to heat up in Syria. So it’s interesting to note the timing of the whole thing.”