Blaming the Afghan War Failure on — Russia

Exclusive: Another part of the U.S. mainstream media’s rash of Russia-bashing is to claim that Moscow is arming Afghanistan’s Taliban, but again the evidence doesn’t match the accusations, writes Jonathan Marshall.

By Jonathan Marshall

News flash: The United States is supplying spiffy new Humvees and Ford Ranger pickup trucks to the Taliban, who brazenly parade their troops in those vehicles “without fear of being targeted by Afghan or Coalition forces,” according to a senior fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilots fly near Jalalabad, Afghanistan, April 5, 2017.(Army photo by Capt. Brian Harris)

As Bill Poggio observed in the foundation’s Long War Journal, “The Taliban displayed their military power in the contested district of Bakwa in a newly released video titled From the Fronts of Farah. The video which was released on the Taliban’s propaganda website, Voice of Jihad, ‘is dedicated to . . . showcasing the strength, control and advances of the Mujahideen of Islamic Emirate,’ according to an accompanying statement.”

Poggio concluded, more reasonably than I suggest in my opening sentence, that the trucks displayed in the Taliban video were “captured from Afghan Army and police units,” not ordered directly by the Afghan insurgents out of a Pentagon catalog.

But U.S. officials have not shown the same good sense in their continued, but unsupported, denunciations of Russia for supplying the Taliban with assault rifles and other small arms.

I demolished that canard in a May 29 article. I pointed out that, contrary to a raft of news stories based on Pentagon leaks about Russian backstabbing, the director of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency admitted in a Senate hearing, “I have not seen real physical evidence of weapons or money being transferred” by Russia to the Taliban.

The chairman of NATO’s military committee restated that conclusion in almost the same words just a few days ago. He told reporters in Washington, “I don’t have and I haven’t seen any hard evidence on the delivery of weapons from the Russians to the Taliban.”

Despite such authoritative denials, leading U.S. national security reporters — and government officials — have been keeping the story alive, as it fits the larger Washington narrative about Russia’s threat to U.S. security and Western values.

In late August, following President Trump’s address to the nation committing to a long-term battle in Afghanistan, Andrea Mitchell of NBC asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, “why didn’t the President mention Russia’s rearming of the Taliban, which General [John] Nicholson has been talking about very openly? He seemed to be letting Russia off the hook in his speech.”

(Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has long complained of Russia’s “malign influence” in Afghanistan, and said in April that he was “not refuting” claims of Russian help to the Taliban.)

In response, Secretary Tillerson also chose not to refute such claims. “To the extent Russia is supplying arms to the Taliban, that is a violation, obviously, of international norms and it’s a violation of UN Security Council norms,” he said. “We certainly would object to that and call Russia’s attention to that.”

Russia vigorously denies doing any such thing. Of course it may be lying — providing arms to bog down the United States in war, or to curry favor with the Taliban as it racks up military gains across the country.

Dated Weapons

But many of the Russian weapons in the hands of the Taliban date back to Russia’s own misadventure in Afghanistan in the 1980s, according to one small arms expert interviewed by an editor at The Atlantic. Other weapons in Taliban hands are Chinese or Pakistani knock-offs.

Seen through a night-vision device, U.S. Marines conduct a combat logistics patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan, April 21, 2013. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Anthony L. Ortiz)

“Russian-made weapons of those calibers can be obtained in many places,” said Thomas Ruttig, co-director of the Afghanistan Analysts Network.

As I documented previously, Moscow has been shipping assault weapons and providing flight training to Afghan government forces, not the Taliban. The insurgents don’t need to buy their weapons from abroad when they can simply take them from the Afghan army or police. “It’s simple and cheaper,” one Taliban commander told an American reporter.

As a result, U.S. taxpayers are going to great expense to arm the very people who are killing U.S. soldiers and their allies in Afghanistan.

The Taliban don’t just use those captured Humvees and trucks for show. In a stunning operation in mid-October, insurgents drove explosives-laden vehicles “captured from security forces” into an Afghan Army base in the southern province of Kandahar, killing most of its 60 members and leaving only two unhurt.

A day or two earlier, Taliban forces used the same tactic in two southeastern provinces, killing more than 40 police officers by detonating explosives in “Humvees paid for by the United States military,” according to the New York Times.

After 16 years of failed war in Afghanistan, U.S. officials may find it convenient to look for scapegoats like Russia. But the fault, with apologies to the Bard, is not in Moscow but in ourselves.

Jonathan Marshall’s previous articles on Afghanistan include “Alleged Russia-Taliban Arms Link Disputed,”  “The Goal of ‘Not Losing’ in Afghanistan,” “Afghanistan: President Obama’s Vietnam,” and “Why Washington’s War on Drugs in Afghanistan Isn’t Working.”

29 comments for “Blaming the Afghan War Failure on — Russia

  1. roksob
    November 6, 2017 at 23:28

    When the Soviets were in Afghanistan in the 80’s supporting a pro-Soviet government, the CIA was happily supplying the Mujahideen with AA Stinger missiles. It wouldn’t be surprising if Russia was now returning the favour.

  2. mike
    November 2, 2017 at 12:29

    Who is arming the Taliban?

    • anan
      November 3, 2017 at 03:35

      Pakistani Army and Gulf establishment.

  3. george Archers
    November 2, 2017 at 10:11

    Amurdericans-no need to say more :^(

  4. Rick Patel
    November 2, 2017 at 05:25

    Russia certainly should be arming the Taliban. Turn-about is fair play.

    • anan
      November 3, 2017 at 03:35

      If Russia does back the Taliban the Afghan people will hate Russia for it. Russia will play a terrible price.

      What have the Afghan people done to Russia? Why would Russia try to harm Afghans?

      • witters
        November 3, 2017 at 22:53

        So the Taliban are not Afghan? What then are they, dear Anan?

        And this surely is eleigible for some kind of prize: “Afghanistan has a fully legitimate sovereign government.”

  5. acomfort
    November 1, 2017 at 14:37

    In 2000, the Taliban were able to rule 90% of the country.
    The Taliban are Afgans therefore; this is a civil war and it should be just as legal for Russia to support the Afghan Taliban as it is for the US to support the Aghan Govt.
    I would like to see the media refer to the Taliban as the ‘Afghan Taliban’
    the same way the media speaks of the ‘Afghan military.’

    It gives a little more clarity to our involvement in Afghanistan.

    • anan
      November 3, 2017 at 03:33

      acomfort, the Taliban are fiercely anti Russian. Russia backed the Northern alliance against the Taliban 1996-2001 and played a critical role in the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

      Afghanistan has a fully legitimate sovereign government. The Taliban are a creation of the Pakistani Army and hated by the vast majority of Afghans. Why should Russia back Russia’s enemy?

  6. Annie
    November 1, 2017 at 12:07

    I think most o f this kind of nonsense diverts attention as to why we’re still there, how long we’ve been there, and provides an excuse to stay as long as we want. Russia is a good scapegoat with so many Americans buying into Russia-gate so easily because they hate Trump.Their hatred borders on the hysterical and hysterical people will buy into anything you tell them.

  7. stephane
    November 1, 2017 at 11:48

    Even if the Carter WH Administration behind the scene relationship whit the Taliban was fully exposed for all Americans to see, the paid for propaganda media would still blame Russia. The Western hegemonic regime would make sure of that.

    • brother john
      November 4, 2017 at 17:59

      stephane –

      I hope that you and yours are well.

      The “Taliban” did not even exist during the Carter administration.

      Facts matter.

      In truth and for justice,

      John W. Wright

  8. GMC
    November 1, 2017 at 11:26

    The USG gave the Russians the contract to arm the Afghan army with weapons and some helicopters. Russian engineers have been servicing these choppers and electronics for almost a decade. This was part of the deal for letting the US use some airspace and airfields. Of course this was years ago – before the projectionist US started to demonize RU. Spacibo

  9. geeyp
    November 1, 2017 at 11:25

    I also tend to go along with what Vladimir Putin and/or Sergei Lavrov put out there over any representative of the last three administrations. Ever see the footage of Leon Panetta, former CIA head and senator not know the answer to how many wars the last administration was involved in currently then? The answer, of course was seven. He just sat there and laughed ’cause he didn’t know, prior to the interviewer telling him.

  10. November 1, 2017 at 10:20

    I would more likely believe Putin and Lavrov than any official of the US lying to Americans, including the press. Andrea Mitchell, is married to Alan Greenspan, a real truth teller (sarc). The US has got to throw war darts in every direction possible, to ensure that some targets are hit. From what I read, the Afghan people just want the Americans out of their country, and furthermore, that they have respect for Russians because of infrastructure improvements that the Soviets made years ago.

    • November 1, 2017 at 10:33

      ” they have respect for Russians because of infrastructure improvements that the Soviets made years ago.”…Yes, Jessica, and when the Russians were there women were being trained as professionals i.e. teachers, doctors etc..

  11. mike k
    November 1, 2017 at 07:52

    With nuclear war with North Korea imminent, this (linked) article makes clear how there really is no check on Crazy Donald ordering a first strike any time he feels like it. I really wish Kim Jong Un would quit needling him – this could be all it takes to trigger our unstable Number One to do the unthinkable. When two insane persons start escalating threats to destroy each other, the outcome can be a global disaster.

    • Realist
      November 2, 2017 at 03:29

      The congress really needs to rescind that 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force* that every president since Dubya has been using as a pretext for bombing any country he chooses for whatever reason. The Constitution alone should preclude such actions, as only the congress can actually declare war, but that document is pretty much used only as toilet paper these days. The congress should also pass veto-proof legislation that prohibits the president from using nuclear weapons without the expressed consent of the legislature on a case-by-case basis. The future of all life on earth should not be entrusted to one man, whether stable or insane.

      *The Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), Pub. L. 107-40, codified at 115 Stat. 224 and passed as S.J.Res. 23 by the United States Congress on September 14, 2001, authorizes the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the attacks on September 11, 2001 and any “associated forces”.

      North Korea certainly does not represent “associated forces.” Neither does Syria, Iran, Russia or a whole list of other countries the American chief executive of the day routinely threatens with military aggression.

  12. mike k
    November 1, 2017 at 07:17

    The only language the US government speaks is lies. Washington DC is so awash in lying, that you cannot trust anything emanating from there to be true. The only people who imbibe this bullshit straight without a chaser are the great ignorant US population. We proles have been carefully taught to not think. Let’s have another beer, and talk about the big football game this weekend……

  13. fudmier
    November 1, 2017 at 03:13

    LNG or opium? is there a difference?

  14. David G
    October 31, 2017 at 23:43

    “As a result, U.S. taxpayers are going to great expense to arm the very people who are killing U.S. soldiers and their allies in Afghanistan.”

    … and Iraq and Syria.

    Another connection between the two theaters (as of this month) is the tactic of using multiple, captured, explosives-laden vehicles to devastating effect in suicide attacks. Islamic State had great success with such attacks in Iraq until the Iraqi army learned to defend against them. It’s a failure of the U.S. military in Afghanistan in its role as advisors to the Afghan forces that this wasn’t foreseen and appropriate countermeasures taken preemptively.

  15. Abe
    October 31, 2017 at 23:20

    “Afghanistan conveniently borders Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and even China. A permanent US military presence in Afghanistan and control over the regime in Kabul, gives the US a springboard for direct and indirect geopolitical influence – including military operations – in all directions. Evidence indicates that exploiting this strategic foothold in this manner has already long-ago begun.

    “The US has sought to pressure Iran and Pakistan for decades, with long-drawn plans regarding both nations.

    “Regarding Pakistan, before the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, the US had very few options in terms of coercing Islamabad. With the US military now on Pakistan’s border and with special operations and unmanned drones regularly conducting missions within Pakistan’s borders, Washington’s ability to coerce and influence Islamabad has drastically increased.

    “Should President Trump announce direct military action against Pakistan for whatever reason, the US already conveniently has multiple military bases on its border to launch it from – bases that have developed their infrastructure over the course of 16 years and counting. Should the US decide to expand covert support for separatist movements the US is sponsoring within Pakistan currently, it can also do so conveniently from Afghanistan. […]

    “yet another American president who promised to withdraw from the endless war in Afghanistan has predictably backtracked – and instead of fighting Al Qaeda and the so-called “Islamic State” (ISIS) at its source – in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or even Washington itself – President Trump has proposed to Americans to spend additional blood and treasure to fight them in Afghanistan.

    “And while President Trump has promised no ‘nation building,’ it is clear that the conditions that must be met in order for the US to withdraw is the existence of a regime in Kabul created in America’s own image and beholden to US interests, including continuing efforts to undermine political stability in neighboring Iran, Pakistan’s Baluchistan region, and ultimately against China’s growing regional influence.”

    Trump: Afghanistan First
    By Tony Cartalucci

    • brother john
      November 4, 2017 at 05:19

      Abe –

      I hope that you and yours are well.

      I’m sorry, but much what you quoted is patently absurd.

      The Pakistani ISI and the CIA are practically joined at the hip and have been for most of the past 50 years. At one time, the head of the ISI even had to be approved by the CIA.

      The ISI is a massive institution which dominates Pakistan and has control over its nuclear arsenal.

      To suggest that the U.S. is in Afghanistan in order to “coerce” Pakistan is ludicrous.

      The military forces of the U.S. and Pakistan work closely together and the U.S. military makes frequent use of Pakistan’s air bases.

      I’m not sure what point you were trying to make, could you please clarify?

      In truth and for justice,

      John W. Wright

  16. Zachary Smith
    October 31, 2017 at 22:30

    Poggio concluded, more reasonably than I suggest in my opening sentence, that the trucks displayed in the Taliban video were “captured from Afghan Army and police units,” not ordered directly by the Afghan insurgents out of a Pentagon catalog.

    In a sense that equipment might as well have been “ordered directly” from the Pentagon. I don’t see much news out of Afghanistan these days, but in times past the money transfers to the Taliban and many others was stupendous.

    Report: U.S. Bribes to Protect Convoys Are Funding Taliban Insurgents
    By Nick Schifrin KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, June 22, 2010


    For instance, a gallon of gas might costs $2.75 here in the United States, and that – and it’s purchased as such by the Defense’s energy supply center out of Fort Belvoir. But by the time you deliver it over those mountainous goat trails in Afghanistan, it can be as high as $200, $300, even $400 a gallon. And when you understand those kinds of costs, then you realize, well, doggone it, we’ve got to do something about that. We’ve got to, you know, reduce our energy requirements.

    December 3, 2010

    I know of no way to introduce such extreme surcharges on gasoline (or anything else) other than bribe money being awarded to an awful lot of people.


  17. brother john
    October 31, 2017 at 21:00

    Jonathon Marshall –

    I hope that you and yours are well.

    Thank you for continuing effort to shine the light of truth on this ancient land and its long-suffering people.

    The colossal American failure in Afghanistan began with Operation Cyclone in 1979, so it is in its 38th year.

    With almost four decades of duplicity, malice and wanton destruction; is it any wonder why the Afghani people don’t trust the U.S.?

    I would think with all that opium and heroin cash, the Taliban would have little problem acquiring all the arms, ammunition and vehicles they need.

    Why is there so little discussion of the yearly massive opium crops grown in Afghanistan, especially with the ongoing, well-publicized opiate epidemic plaguing the United States right now?

    In truth and for justice,

    John W. Wright

    • November 1, 2017 at 08:03

      All of the opium production has been taken over by the CIA and AID. The Taliban, when in charge, stopped all opium production. That is why so much heroin is coming into the USA: the sale of heroin funds the CIA to a great extent, all black market cash by the $100s of millions, I’m sure. The Taliban were the “good guys” in this particular aspect.

      • brother john
        November 1, 2017 at 14:27

        Craig Watson –

        I hope that you and yours are well.

        I’m assuming that you, like me, have never set foot in Afghanistan (or if you have you haven’t toured all the opium growing regions recently), yes?

        Thus, your seeming certainty that “All of the opium production has been taken over by the CIA and AID” is a bit of a stretch, agreed?

        Yes, when the Taliban were in charge of the country, they did slow and even suspend poppy production at times. Some have argued that their suspension of poppy production was done for a combination of political and market reasons, as there was a glut in the market and prices had dropped precipitously. They were also interested in trying to appease the UN and mute international criticism at the time. But, they certainly didn’t wipe it out entirely or permanently and had warehouses stuffed with opium.

        Odd that you don’t mention the Pakistani ISI’s role in all of this, as they are both a key player in the multi-billion dollar opium/heroin business AND an ongoing partner with much of the Taliban, both in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

        Yes, the CIA takes their cut of the drug money, but to suggest that “the sale of heroin funds the CIA to a great extent” is inaccurate and ludicrous. While it does help fund some of the off-the-books black ops programs and projects, this represents only a small fraction of the CIA’s funding sources.

        The “Taliban”, like “al Qaeda”, is not a monolith and has many factions. And, just like “al Qaeda”, much of what is called the “Taliban” is just a cover for warlords and their criminal enterprises who forge and break alliances as needed.

        Probably the single best source regarding the CIA’s long history with drug smuggling is Alfred C. McCoy’s “The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade”. I highly recommend it.

        Finally, the vast majority of the heroin from Afghanistan goes to Europe and Russia. Much of that which finds its way to Europe comes in through Kosovo and Albania. This operation was originally set up by Gen.Richard Secord (Ret.) and Gen. John Singlaub (Ret.) following the 2001 illegal invasion of Afghanistan. They made use of the K2 airbase in Uzbekistan until the Uzbeks kicked the U.S. off the base in 2005. Secord and Singlaub got their start in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War era and then moved on to running cocaine from South America through Central Americainto the U.S., significant transit points being Panama, Punta Arenas in Costa Rica, the Palmerola airbase and an airbase in the Swan Islands, both Honduran. A minor airfield in northern Costa Rica was also used until it was exposed and shut down. There’s an article on this site about it, just search for John Hull.

        I don’t think there’s anything “good” about the Taliban.

        In truth and for justice,

        John W. Wright

        • witters
          November 3, 2017 at 22:47

          It can’t be “good” to fight invaders and occupiers… Is that your claim Brother John? Interesting ideas of truth and justice you deploy here.

          • brother john
            November 4, 2017 at 04:52

            witters –

            I hope that you and yours are well.

            That’s a very interesting misinterpretation of what I wrote.

            I would never deny anyone their right to legitimate self-defense.

            But very little of what the “Taliban” do is motivated by defense of the Afghani people. I think if you examine the origins of the “Taliban” you will find that they were a creation of Pakistan’s ISI in an effort to exert influence in Afghanistan following the chaos which ensued after the Soviets left and the government fell at the hands of mujaheddin Arab-Afghan mercenary forces created and funded as part of Operation Cyclone. Much if not most of what is called the “Taliban” are actually local warlords who ruthlessly prey upon the local populace, control territory and form alliances with one another in order to maintain their power. They use the pretense of reactionary fundamentalist Islam in order to maintain their control and provide “religious” cover for what they are actually doing. They are a schism of the mujaheddin radicalized in the Madrassas funded by the Saudis. Thus, even their version of Islam is a foreign creation and doesn’t represent anything close to a natural evolution of the faith practiced by most Muslims in Afghanistan.

            This is not to say that there are not legitimate indigenous forces opposed to foreign occupation. But the “Taliban” wage war on them with as much ferocity as they do against the western forces illegally occupying Afghanistan.

            As a lifelong pacifist I abhor violence, but concede that it may be necessary in cases of self-defense when all other avenues have been exhausted.

            Imagine if the “Taliban” called for a six month truce, refrained from violence, engaged in community building and actively ejected all foreign “terrorists”. What excuse would the occupying forces have for remaining?

            But the Anglo-American empire have to have an excuse to remain. Thus they fight the “Taliban”, “al Qaeda” and now “ISIS”, all manifestations of Operation Cyclone in one form or another, and the sickening ethnic cleansing continues, now going on four decades.

            I hope this provides you with an adequate clarification regarding my position on ending the violence in Afghanistan and freeing the country of foreign occupation and interference.

            In truth and for justice and peace,

            John W. Wright

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