Videos suggest Russian government may be arming Taliban

Videos suggest Russian government may be arming Taliban
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Taliban fighters in videos published on Tuesday by CNN claim that Russia has supplied them with weapons, appearing to support months of Pentagon suggestions that Moscow has been arming its one-time foe.

The two videos feature Taliban fighters with weapons they claim originated in Russia. Weapons experts told CNN, however, that the arms in the videos have been scrubbed of any signs of their origins, making the videos far from incontrovertible proof that Russia supplied the weaponry.

One video shows a breakaway group in western Afghanistan with weapons seized from the main Taliban, which they said were supplied by the Russian government.

"These weapons were given to the fighters of Mullah Haibatullah by the Russians via Iran," the breakaway group’s deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi, said in the video, according to CNN’s translation. Mullah Haibatullah is the main Taliban’s leader.

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A second video shows a masked Taliban fighter with weapons he said he received for free from the Russians by way of Tajikistan.

"These pistols have been brought to us recently," he said, according to CNN’s translation. "These are made in Russia, and are very good stuff."

Pentagon officials for months have been expressing concern about Russia’s forays into Afghanistan. They’ve also suggested, without explicitly confirming, that Russia has been arming the Taliban, whose predecessor group fought the Soviet Union.

Asked in April about reports that Russia was supplying weapons to the insurgents, Gen. John Nicholson, commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, said adamantly that he was “not refuting” the reports.

Speaking alongside him, Defense Secretary James Mattis said the United States would have to confront any such violations of international law.

“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 said. “For example, any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law unless they’re coming through the government of Afghanistan for the Afghan forces, and so that would have to be dealt with as a violation of international law.”

Those comments came after Nicholson in February told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russia has been trying to legitimize the Taliban by promoting a false narrative that the insurgents are fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

And in March, Gen. Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command, told the House Armed Services Committee it is “fair to assume” Russia is proving arms to the Taliban.

Russia has repeatedly denied claims it’s supplying the Taliban, saying that such allegations are “fabrications” and “utterly false.”