Russia Is Arming Taliban in Afghanistan, Afghan Reports Say As New Videos of Russian Guns Emerge

Afghan forces
Afghan security forces take position during a gun battle between Taliban and Afghan security forces in Laghman province, Afghanistan March 1, 2017. Parwiz/Reuters

Two different Taliban cells claim "the Russians" supplied them with arms as the Afghan government claims it is investigating the level of support Moscow has for the insurgents.

The Russian government has previously denied supporting the Taliban and only keeping in contact with the militants for the sake of peace talks. Two separate sets of Taliban told CNN in a video exclusive that their guns originally came from Russian government sources.

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One splinter group of Taliban in western Afghanistan near Herat say they acquired their guns as spoils of war, after vanquishing a local Taliban rival group, who received the Russian arms via Moscow's military ally Iran. "The Russians" sent arms to their rivals to fight extremist group Islamic State (ISIS) in Afghanistan but they had used them against other Taliban too, the Herat group's deputy leader Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi said.

Another Taliban group in Afghanistan's say "the Russians" handed them small arms for free, across the Afghan border with Tajikistan - a former Soviet republic and current military ally of Russia.

Although the footage does appear to show at least one Kalashnikov rifle, there are few identifying marks on the guns that definitively ties them to any specific supplier, including the Russian government.

"The Russians have said that they maintain contact with the Taliban, we have lots of other reports from other people they are arming the Taliban," Afghan government spokesman Sediq Sediqi said in light of the CNN report. "There is no smoke without fire. That's why our intelligence agencies are up to the job to find out what level of support that is to the Taliban."

Another Afghan official, whose name CNN did not reveal, said they were sure Russia and the Taliban were engaged in trade.

U.S. General Joseph Votel, chief of US Central Command, told Congress in March that Russia sought influence in Afghanistan. "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," he said.

The Russian government is yet to comment on the allegations in the latest CNN footage but has previously denied resolutely that it is sending lethal aid to the Taliban.

"All these are attempts to explain one's own failures and inability to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan," the Kremlin's special representative on Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov said in February when reports of Russian support for the Taliban first emerged. "There is no other reading of this."

Moscow fought a protracted conflict with the Taliban's predecessors in Afghanistan - the Mujahideen - during the 1980s, ending catastrophically for the Soviet Union and earning parallels with U.S. operations against guerilla fighters in Vietnam.