The New York Times published a story on Monday about Russia’s relationship with the Taliban titled “How Russia Built a Channel to the Taliban, Once an Enemy.” The story revives flimsy claims from a few years ago about Russia arming the Taliban and repeats a recent report from the Times that claimed Russia paid the Afghan militants bounties to Kill US troops, an allegation that has since been discredited by US officials and intelligence agencies
In April 2017, Gen. John W. Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan at the time, alleged that Moscow was sending weapons to the Taliban. But even the Times admits that Nicholson “offered no definitive evidence” to back up the claim.
Nicholson’s claims were discredited shortly after he made them. In May 2017, then Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Lieutenant Gen. Vincent Stewart told Congress there was no evidence to show Russia was arming the Taliban. “We have seen indication that they offered some level of support but I have not seen real physical evidence of weapons or money being transferred,” Stewart said.
Later that year, in July 2017, CNN published a report that also alleged the Russians were arming the Taliban. But that report was quickly debunked by veteran military journalists at Task & Purpose.
The Times referred in their recent Russian bounty story to an “intelligence assessment” that “stunned political leaders in Washington.” Missing from the Times story is the fact that numerous US officials have said there was no corroboration to support the claim that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban. “All the defense intelligence agencies have been unable to corroborate that report,” Secretary of Defense Mark Esper told the House Armed Services Committee last week.
A recent memo produced by the National Intelligence Council revealed that the NSA and other intelligence agencies gave the intelligence assessment “low” confidence as opposed to “high” or “medium” confidence.
Russia has met with the Taliban over the past year, and in those meetings, Moscow encouraged the group to reach a deal with the US. In September 2019, shortly after US-Taliban talks fell apart, a Taliban delegation traveled to Russia. “The Russian side stressed the need to relaunch negotiations between the United States and the Taliban movement,” a Russian spokesman said after the meeting.
Talks eventually started up again, and the US signed a deal with the Taliban in February. As part of the deal, the Taliban pledged to prevent terrorist groups that threaten the US from gaining a foothold in Afghanistan, something that is also in the interest of Moscow.
The US and Russia have cooperated in the past in Afghanistan, something even the Times story even admits. “Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show genuine attempts by both sides to coordinate efforts in Afghanistan. Russian officials spoke of a ‘collective fist’ in the fight against terrorism, and urged unity ‘with one voice — the American voice,'” the story reads.