WASHINGTON: Russia is providing political legitimacy and military supplies to the Taliban in Afghanistan, the US media reported on Tuesday as a US general demanded 5,000 additional troops for stabilising the war-ravaged country.

“American military officers see a growing Russian effort to bolster the Taliban’s legitimacy and undercut (the US and) Nato’s military effort there,” CNN reported.

The report recalled that in the 1980s, the United States backed the Afghan insurgency and successfully ejected Soviet troops from Afghanistan. Some historians view Russia’s damaging withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 as precipitating the fall of the USSR, the report added.

In supporting the Taliban, the Russians “perhaps (saw) a chance at ironic form of revenge for America’s Cold War efforts,” CNN said.

Earlier this week, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the Supreme Allied Commander of Nato forces in Europe, told a congressional panel in Washington that Russia had increased its support to the Afghan Taliban, including potentially the provision of supplies.

“I’ve seen the influence of Russia of late, increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,” Gen Scaparrotti told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Two other senior US generals, Joseph Votel and John Nicholson, also told lawmakers in Washington last month that Russia was trying to provide political legitimacy to the Taliban by saying that the insurgent group was fighting ISIS. The generals claimed that Moscow wanted to undermine the Afghan government to undo the US-installed setup in Kabul. Gen Votel heads the US Central Command while Gen Nicholson commands US and Nato forces in Afghanistan.

But a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, Zamir Kabulov, rejected these claims as “absolutely false,” adding that such announcements were “designed to justify the failure of the American political and military campaigns” in Afghanistan.

Yet, US generals not only continue to highlight the alleged Russian involvement in Afghanistan but are also demanding more troops to deal with the situation. In an interview to The Sunday Times of London this week, Gen. Nicholson urged the United States and Nato to send 5,000 more troops to Afghanistan to break a stalemate between Afghan forces and Muslim terrorists.

“We cannot afford to walk away from Afghanistan,” he said. “This is where the war against terrorism started on 9/11. Failure here would embolden terrorists globally.”

Gen Nicholson said he will ask for additional forces at a Nato meeting in May with the backing of US Defence Secretary James Mattis and National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster.

Published in Dawn, March 29th, 2017

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