April 25, 2017
US Defense Secretary James Mattis has vowed to “confront” Russia, after the top US general in Afghanistan accused Moscow of arming the Taliban militants.
During a joint press conference with Mattis on Monday, General John Nicholson, the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, said he would not “refute” the claim that the Kremlin was behind an influx of weapons to the Taliban.
“We continue to get reports of this assistance,” Nicholson said. “We support anyone who wants to help us advance the reconciliation process, but anyone who arms belligerents who perpetuate attacks like the one we saw two days ago in Mazar-i-Sharif is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.”
A senior US military official confirmed to the press earlier in the day that Russia had been supplying machine guns and other medium-weight weapons over the past 18 months.
The unnamed official claimed that Russia was sending the weapons under the guise that they would be used against Daesh (ISIL) terrorists in eastern Afghanistan.
‘Violation of international law’
Mattis, who was on his first visit to the conflict-ridden country as the Pentagon’s chief, said sending any weapons to Afghanistan is illegal and Washington would raise the issue with Moscow.
“Any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law unless they were coming to the government of Afghanistan,” Mattis said.
“We’ll engage with Russia diplomatically,” he added. “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.”
Mattis’ surprise visit to Kabul came concurrently with the resignation of his Afghan counterpart Abdullah Habibi and Army Chief of Staff Qadam Shah Shahim following a Taliban attack on a military base that killed some 140 soldiers last week.
“2017 is going to be another tough year,” Mattis warned.
The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and currently has around 10,000 troops there. Washington claims that the massive military presence is only aimed at maintaining security across the country until Afghan military forces are ready to take over the responsibility.
Russia fought its own war in Afghanistan in the 1980s and lost thousands of its forces in the battle with insurgent groups that were armed with advanced US weaponry and later on formed the Taliban.
Back then, the US openly provided the militants with such weapons as shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles.
The Kremlin has denied similar accusations in the past, saying the claim was “a lie” aimed at covering Washington’s own policy failures in Afghanistan.