No Evidence Russia Turning to Taliban for Arms, White House Says

Russia may be turning to more countries to replenish its military fight in Ukraine, but the White House says there is no evidence to support published reports that Moscow has asked the Afghan Taliban for help.

“I cannot confirm this report,” John Kirby, coordinator for strategic communications at the National Security Council, told VOA during a briefing Friday. “But if this is true, it certainly flies in the face of what the Taliban say their goals are,” he added, pointing to the Taliban’s desire to be internationally recognized as the legitimate government in Afghanistan.

A 2022 Pentagon report found that the fall of the US-backed Afghan government after the chaotic withdrawal of Western forces in August 2021 gave Taliban fighters access to $7 billion worth of American military equipment, $18.6 billion worth of weapons and other equipment provided to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces from 2005 to August 2021. .

The stockpile includes aircraft, vehicles, ammunition, guns, communications equipment and other gear, which Kirby and other officials stressed are the property of the now-defunct Afghan government, not the United States. According to the Pentagon, most of the equipment used by American forces in Afghanistan has been recovered or destroyed.

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“We have no indication of exactly where all those systems are [in Taliban hands] Kirby said how they are being used. “Obviously, we have no indication that the Taliban is willing to export them.”

Zia Ahmad Takal, deputy spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, denied that the Taliban were supplying Russia with weapons. “This report is false,” he told VOA.

Attractive target

American weapons now in the hands of the Taliban are an attractive target for various actors looking for firepower.

“You’re going to have outside actors trying to get access to all these weapons,” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia program at the Wilson Center, a global policy research group in Washington.

“Whether the Taliban is really willing to provide these weapons to Russia, I find it a little hard to believe,” he told VOA.

While Moscow’s offer cannot be ruled out, the Taliban are focused on building their own military capabilities, Kugelman said. The group faces internal security threats from terrorist groups such as the Islamic State group and the National Resistance Front, among others.

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Additionally, the Taliban arsenal may not be very beneficial to President Vladimir Putin’s war ambitions, as there are not many weapons useful in combat in Ukraine, where Russia relies heavily on long-range attacks using unguided weapons such as howitzers. and artillery rockets.

What Moscow needs most are missiles and Soviet-quality artillery ammunition, none of which the U.S. has left in Afghanistan, said Mark Cancion, senior adviser for the international security program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

“Most of the weapons left by the United States are probably inoperable and badly damaged due to a lack of trained operators and spare parts,” Cancian told VOA. “This is especially true for complex weapons like helicopters or tanks, even the Soviet standard.”

Moscow may be able to use military helicopters, including the Soviet-designed Mi-17 that the Taliban currently have, as well as a limited number of American-made Black Hawks and light aircraft, but the chances are slim.

“Why would they give them up?” said Jonathan Schroden, director of the Threats and Challenges Program at the Center for Naval Analyzes in Arlington County, Virginia. “They will give up a lot of their air power, and I don’t see it being in the Taliban’s interests to do that.”

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The remaining equipment, including Humvees, heavy machine guns and ammunition, is not necessarily compatible with Russian logistics and maintenance capabilities, Schroden said.

“I don’t understand why they would add to their level of difficulty what they’re already dealing with,” he said.

About a year into the invasion of Ukraine, Moscow turned to other states, including Iran and North Korea, to shore up its military.

Washington has imposed sanctions on Tehran for providing Iran-made drones to Moscow and is seeking to add sanctions on North Korea for supplying battlefield missiles and rockets to the Russian mercenary group Wagner for use in Ukraine.

Tehran has said the drones were sent before Russia’s February invasion, and Moscow has denied its forces used Iranian drones in Ukraine. North Korea and Wagner have also rejected the US accusations.

Syed Aziz Rehman contributed to this report.


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