Russia is “perhaps” supplying the Taliban as they fight US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, a top US general said Thursday.
General Curtis Scaparrotti, NATO’s supreme allied commander who also heads the US military’s European Command, told lawmakers he had seen Russian influence expand in multiple 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. NATO troops have been fighting in Afghanistan since a US-led invasion in late 2001, following the September 11 attacks.
About 13,000 NATO service members are in Afghanistan, the bulk of them American, under its Resolute Support training mission. Scaparrotti’s comment goes one step further than remarks last month by General John Nicholson, the US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Nicholson testified that Russia is giving the Taliban encouragement and diplomatic cover in order to undermine US influence and to defeat NATO, but he did not address whether Russia is supplying the Islamist insurgents. The United States in the 1980s supplied the Mujahideen, parts of which ultimately became the Taliban, with high-tech weapons as they battled the Soviet Union.
After more than 15 years of war, US generals say the Afghanistan conflict is stuck in a “stalemate,” with the Taliban continuing to carry broad regional influence and NATO-backed Afghan security forces struggling to make progress.
Taliban fighters captured the strategic southern district of Sangin on Thursday, another setback for Afghan forces in opium-rich Helmand province ahead of the spring fighting season.