GP Insights # 379, 4 July 2020
On 26 June, the New York Times published a report claiming that American intelligence has confirmed that the Taliban received bounties from the Russian military intelligence agency, for killing the US and NATO forces. They concluded so, after recovery of large amounts of American cash at a Taliban outpost.
In response, President Donald Trump had claimed that he was never briefed about the intelligence report, denied any knowledge of Russian bounties, and has called it a 'hoax.' The communications director at the White House, Alyssa Farah, called the report "uncorroborated."
Representatives in the US Congress had however asked the President to, "immediately expose and handle this, and stop Russia's shadow war," and has also accused him of "ignoring" it.
The Russian embassy, in a series of tweets, has denied the same saying, "there is no evidence related to the claims about Moscow's collusion with the Taliban" and are only 'groundless accusation' against them.
What is the background?
First, an increase in Russian engagement in Afghanistan. The news report comes amid a background where Russia has been increasingly creating a role for itself in the conflict in Afghanistan. This was evident in May 2019, when the Putin administration invited senior members of the Afghan government and the Taliban to celebrate "100 years of Russo-Afghan friendship." Soon after the US-Taliban agreement, Russia along with the US issued a joint statement on not recognizing the Taliban's designation as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
Second, Russia's apprehension on the rise of the Islamic State in Afghanistan. Russia doesn't want the presence of the Islamic State neither in Central Asia, nor near its southern borders through Afghanistan. This apprehension has been the ground pushing Russia to increase its strategic footprint in Afghanistan and also in its fight against the Islamic State in Syria to prevent its spread elsewhere.
Third, the historical background. Russia seeks to re-evaluate its past experience of the 1980s when the US supported the Afghan-Arab mujahideen against the erstwhile Soviet Union.
What does it mean?
First, the exit from Afghanistan will now be hard for the US troops, if the Taliban continues to receive support from Russia. This also means that violence in the country will only increase, making the US withdrawal all the more bloody.
Second, the news report has now led to increased tension within the US government. Trump's position against Russia and the rationale of the US-Taliban agreement will now be increasingly questioned.
Last, this will also bear an impact on the upcoming elections. If Trump fails to address the Russia-Taliban collusion, the US-Taliban deal may lose its significance as his upcoming election campaign strategy.