07:00 GMT14 April 2021
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    On Friday, anonymous sources told the newspaper that Russia has offered reward money to Taliban*-affiliated militants to kill US and coalition troops in Afghanistan, ostensibly in a bid to accelerate US forces’ withdrawal from the country. Moscow, the Trump administration and even the Taliban itself have denied the allegations.

    Russia “very likely continues to support US-Taliban reconciliation efforts in the hope that reconciliation will prevent a long-term US military presence” in Afghanistan. That’s the conclusion of a new Pentagon report released to US lawmakers on the military mission in the war-torn country.

    Listing Russia as one of the “regional actors” influencing the security situation in the Central Asian nation, the report says that “as of February, the Russian government was working with the central government, regional countries, and the Taliban to gain increased influence in Afghanistan, expedite a US military withdrawal, and address security challenges that might arise from a withdrawal.”

    “As of late February, Kremlin officials expressed support for the US-Taliban Agreement and offered to facilitate [Intra-Afghan negotiations], which Russian officials supported as the best path toward forming an interim government. Russia has politically supported the Taliban to cultivate influence with the group, limit the Western military presence, and encourage counter ISIS (Daesh)* operations, although Russia publicly denies their involvement,” the report adds.

    The new report follows an assessment by the Defence Department on Tuesday concluding that the Pentagon has “no corroborating evidence to validate” allegations about collusion between Russia’s GRU military intelligence and the Taliban to kill US troops made by the New York Times.

    Trump administration figures, the president himself, Russia and the Taliban have all dismissed the claims made in the explosive report, while Democratic lawmakers have proposed new sanctions against Russia including asset freezes, travel restrictions, and banking restrictions against President Putin, other senior officials and businessmen, and Russia’s defence sector.

    Russia has formally classified the Taliban as a terrorist organization since 2003, with the Russian military fighting Taliban militants in Chechnya in 2000. Moscow has also provided Tajikistan with security assistance amid skirmishes between Tajik troops and Taliban forces. Despite the classification, Russia’s foreign ministry has sought to facilitate regional peace talks to bring an end to the Afghan conflict.

    * A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.


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