The top US commander in Afghanistan has said that Russia and Iran are supporting the Taliban in part to undermine the US and NATO mission to attain peace and stability in the war-torn nation. “When we look at Russia and Iranian actions in Afghanistan, I believe that in part there, to undermine the US and NATO and prevent the strong and partnership that we have with the Afghans in the region,” General John Nicholson, Commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan told lawmakers yesterday during a Congressional hearing.
“The Russian involvement (in Afghanistan), this year, has become more difficult,” Nicholson said. “They (Russians) have begun to publicly legitimise the Taliban. This narrative that they promote is that the Taliban are fighting Islamic State and the Afghan government is not as fighting Islamic State and that therefore there could be spillover of this group into the region. This is a false narrative,” he said.
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“The Afghan government, along with US counterterrorism forces are successfully fighting against Islamic State in Afghanistan. This year alone we have reduced their fighters by half, their territory by two thirds, we’ve killed their leader, in fact their top 12 leaders and continue to disrupt their operation,” he said.
Nicholson alleged that Russia has legitimised the Taliban with this false narrative of fighting Islamic State. “They also, have initiated a series of meetings in Moscow to which the Afghans have not been invited, for the first several meetings, in which to discuss the future of Afghanistan,” he said.
“Afghanistan is trying to work with all of its neighbours and all of the stakeholders. They’ve reached out to the Russians about this. We believe, that a peace and reconciliation process in Afghanistan should be Afghan,” the General said.
“This has been the position of the United States government and we believe this will be the most lasting, enduring effective peace arrangement,” he said. Senator Jeanne Shaheen asked about the recent spurt in relationship between Russia and Pakistan.
“We are seeing additional engagement by the Russians with Pakistan. There was recently a training exercise conducted in Pakistan with Russian troops. And we have, again, reporting of an increased conversations going on in the country about potential support to these groups”, she said.
“Given Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal that should give us all much more reason to be very concerned about what’s happening in that region,” Shaheen asked. Senator John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee alleged that both Russia and Iran are meddling in Afghanistan.
“Iran is reportedly arming and funding the Taliban. And, as if the situation were not complicated enough, Russia is now meddling in Afghanistan in apparent attempt to prop up the Taliban and in undermine the US,” he said.