Russia’s role in Afghanistan was questioned again Tuesday when the provincial police chief in Uruzgan told Afghan media that intelligence reports showed visiting Russian generals were providing Taliban militants with weapons and training.
“Eleven Russians, including two women, dressed in doctor’s uniforms and guarded by four armed Taliban, along with an Afghan translator, have been spotted in various parts of the province,” Ghulam Farooq Sangari, Uruzgan police chief, told VOA’s Afghan service. “They have been enticing people against the government, providing training and teaching how to assemble land mines.”
Russian military advisers have been spotted twice recently near Tirinkot, the Uruzgan capital, Haji Abdul Bari, a tribal elder in the province, told VOA.
Taliban connections with Russia have increasingly come under the spotlight as Moscow seeks to increase its influence in the nation it once occupied and to counter Islamic State expansion from Afghanistan to neighboring Central Asian countries.
Russia pledges peace effort
Mounting allegations of Russian military involvement on the ground in Afghanistan have drawn concern from U.S. and Afghan authorities that Russia is working behind the scenes to help the Taliban battle Afghan forces and militant groups in the country, like IS.
Russia has acknowledged political ties with the Taliban. But Russian officials say Moscow is not supplying Taliban militants with arms and training. They assert that their contacts with the Taliban are aimed at facilitating the peace process in Afghanistan.
Over the weekend, the Russian Embassy in Kabul issued a statement saying the Russian military was not helping Taliban militants.
“It is surprising that statesmen, deputies and high-ranking police officers, based on rumors and conjectures and without providing the public any evidence, allow themselves to publicly make irresponsible accusations against Russia in financing and supporting terrorism,” the Russian statement said.
But the allegations of Russian-Taliban military ties are growing.
The governor of Kunduz province said last month that the Taliban were asking Moscow for weapons and training to counter the expanding influence of IS groups in various parts of the country.
In Helmand province
Despite the Russian denial, analysts say signs of Moscow’s assistance to the Taliban have been felt in Afghanistan.
Kabul-based Taliban expert Wahid Muzhda this month told VOA that Moscow had provided the Taliban with a well-equipped mobile clinic, along with a large supply of medicine to treat injured Taliban fighters in Helmand province, which borders Uruzgan.
A number of Afghan lawmakers accused Russia of allowing its military personnel to visit Taliban locations near the border with Pakistan, after a Russian military delegation visited the Waziristan tribal region in Pakistan — a sign of Moscow’s deepening relations with Islamabad, which has been supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
The Afghan Foreign Ministry said it was investigating the reports.
Kabul and Washington, increasingly wary of the deepening ties between Russia and the Taliban, say Moscow’s alliance with the militant group could complicate an already precarious security situation in the country.
“I believe what Russia is attempting to do is they are attempting to be an influential party in this part of the world,” General Joseph Votel, chief of U.S. Central Command, told U.S. lawmakers last month. “I think it is fair to assume they may be providing some sort of support to [the Taliban] in terms of weapons or other things that may be there.”
VOA’s Afghan service contributed to this report.