Russia denies supplying Taliban after NATO claim
MOSCOWRussia on March 24 denied allegations by the commander of NATO that Moscow may be assisting the Taliban as the insurgents fight U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
“These claims are absolutely false,” Zamir Kabulov, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s department responsible for Afghanistan and the Kremlin’s special envoy in the country, told RIA Novosti state news agency, according to AFP.
“These fabrications are designed, as we have repeatedly underlined, to justify the failure of the U.S. military and politicians in the Afghan campaign. There is no other explanation.”
NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, U.S. General Curtis Scaparrotti, who also heads the U.S. military’s European Command, told lawmakers in Washington on March 23 that he had witnessed Russia’s influence grow in many regions, including in Afghanistan.
“I have seen the influence of Russia of late - an increased influence - in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,” Scaparrotti told the Senate Armed Services Committee, without elaborating.
In February General John Nicholson, the U.S. commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, testified that Russia is encouraging the Taliban and providing them with diplomatic cover in a bid to undermine U.S. influence and defeat NATO.
Kabulov in 2015 said that Russia was exchanging information with the Taliban and saw shared interest with them when it comes to fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Russia considers the Taliban a terrorist group and it is banned in the country, along with ISIL.
Taliban fighters on March 23 captured Afghanistan’s strategic district of Sangin, where U.S. and British forces suffered heavy casualties until it was handed over to Afghan personnel.
US turns down Russia invitation to Afghan peace conference
The U.S. won’t attend a multinational peace conference on Afghanistan next month in Russia, a U.S. State Department official said March 23, according to The Associated Press.
The reasons: The U.S. wasn’t consulted before receiving the invitation and doesn’t know Russia’s objectives for the gathering.
The official said that Washington wants to work with Moscow on regional efforts to end the 16-year war, and that U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would bring up the matter when he visits Russia in April. The official wasn’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity.
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, India and several Central Asian nations are among the invitees to the Moscow conference. Afghan and U.S. officials said the Taliban are not invited. The State Department has not publicly announced its position on the planned conference.