Pompeo Never Complained About Russian Weapon Sales to Taliban, Moscow Says

Russia has rejected U.S. allegations that it has been arming the Taliban in their fight against U.S. troops in Afghanistan, dismissing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's assertion that he had complained about the supposed weapon sales to his Russian counterpart.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said Thursday that Russia has only supplied weapons to the Afghan government, and again peddled an unproven conspiracy theory suggesting the U.S. had provided assistance to Islamic State fighters in Afghanistan.

"Russia supplied arms only to the legitimate government of Afghanistan, which is well known," Zakharova told reporters at a briefing, according to state news agency Tass.

Zakharova also said it "would be appropriate" to mention alleged U.S. support for ISIS militants in Afghanistan, supposedly in the form of unidentified helicopters supplying fighters in the northern part of the country.

Russia has repeatedly used this conspiracy theory to try and smear U.S. forces in the country and divert attention away from reports that Moscow has been backing the Taliban against American forces.

It fits with the long-established Russian disinformation strategy, in which Moscow counters allegations about its own malign activities by accusing its rivals of similar or worse behavior.

The U.S. and Russia are currently at odds over a report by The New York Times suggesting Moscow offered Taliban fighters bounties for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence reportedly believes that several U.S. deaths can be linked to the Russian bounties, The Washington Post has reported.

President Donald Trump is now under pressure to clarify if and when he was briefed on the bounties, and if so why he did not take any action against Russia.

On Wednesday, Pompeo said, "the Russians have been selling small arms that have put Americans at risk there for 10 years," referring to Afghanistan. "When I meet with my Russian counterparts, I talk with them about this each time: 'Stop this,'" he added.

But Zakharova disputed this. "Mr. Pompeo has never raised this question during his meetings with Mr. Lavrov," she said, referring to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Zakharova did not comment on the allegation that Moscow has been offering bounties for dead Americans. Other Russian officials have already dismissed the reports as fake news. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said earlier this week there had been no communication between Moscow and Washington, D.C. on the matter. He earlier dismissed the report as an "elaborate hoax."

Trump made a similar assertion, describing the report as another fabricated Russia "hoax" designed to undermine Republicans ahead of the November presidential election.

Mike Pompeo, Russia, Taliban, weapons, Afghanistan, bounties
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a briefing at the State Department on February 5, 2020 in Washington, D.C. Mark Wilson/Getty Images/Getty