The chairman of NATO’s military committee said Wednesday that he has not seen "hard" evidence that Russia is supplying arms to the Taliban.
However, the general said that intelligence reports do indicate Russia is supplying fuel to companies that then sell it to the Taliban.
“I don’t have and I haven’t seen any hard evidence on the delivery of weapons from the Russians to the Taliban,” Czech Gen. Petr Pavel told reporters in Washington. “However, there are intelligence reports of Russia providing fuel to some companies that are then selling this fuel to the Taliban.”
Pavel acknowledged Russia’s denials and said the issue will likely be discussed Thursday at the sixth meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, a format for NATO officials to discuss issues with Moscow.
NATO leads Resolute Support, the mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces in their fight against the Taliban.
Pentagon officials for months have been expressing concern about Russia’s forays into Afghanistan. In February, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, told senators that Russian support included trying to legitimize the Taliban by spreading a narrative that the Taliban is fighting the Afghan branch of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
U.S. officials also suggested later — without explicitly confirming — that Russia has been arming the Taliban, which evolved from the mujahideen that the Soviet Union fought against in the 1980s.
In April, Nicholson maintained that he was “not refuting” reports that Russia is supplying weapons to the Taliban.
Speaking alongside Nicholson, Defense Secretary James MattisJames Norman MattisThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Senate nears surprise deal on short-term debt ceiling hike Overnight Defense & National Security — Pentagon chiefs to Congress: Don't default Pentagon chiefs say debt default could risk national security MORE said at the time that the United States would have to confront any such violation of international law.
Earlier this month, though, Mattis told the House Armed Services Committee that he wants to see more evidence on how deep Russia’s support for the Taliban is because what he’s seen “doesn’t make sense.”
“I want to see more evidence about how deep the support is,” Mattis said. "I need more definition on what is coming out of Russia. I can’t figure it out. It doesn’t make sense. But we’re looking at it very carefully.”
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani this weekend also accused Russia of supporting the Taliban, saying that the insurgents “are accepting guns from those who have blood on their hands of 1.5 million Afghans.”
An estimated 1.5 million Afghan civilians were killed in the Soviet-Afghan War.
Russia has repeatedly denied claims it is arming the Taliban and laundering fuel sales. The Russian Foreign Ministry called Ghani’s statements “unacceptable” and “groundless,” saying that Afghanistan should not go along with “anti-Russian hysteria fanned by some Western media.”