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How Russia Built a Channel to the Taliban, Once an Enemy

  • July 13, 2020

In that mix of spies, money and mafia, the Taliban, too, found a foothold. The insurgents made a point of taking and maintaining control of some of the border crossings from Kunduz Province into Tajikistan. From the south of the country all the way to the north, they had border access to evade military pressure, maintain ties with friendly foreigners and keep a channel for the opium trade that partly finances the insurgency.

Several Afghan officials, including Asadullah Omarkhel, who was the governor of Kunduz at the time, said they shared with the Americans intelligence that Mullah Abdul Salam, the Taliban commander who led the assaults on Kunduz, repeatedly crossed into Tajikistan for what they suspected were discussions with Russian agents. A Tajik news outlet reported meetings between Russian officials and Taliban commanders at a Russian air base in Tajikistan as early as 2015. And it was these border crossings that the Taliban used to bring weapons in, officials say.

Mr. Omarkhel said Americans initially were not confident about claims of Taliban ties to Russia, but then they started striking the Taliban bases along the border, including a strike that killed Mullah Salam.

At Thursday’s congressional hearing, General Nicholson repeated his accusation of Russia arming the Taliban, noting that even though the aid was not extensive, it still had effect.

“In the northern part of Afghanistan, in particular in Kunduz, the Russian assistance did help the Taliban inflict higher casualties on the Afghan security forces and more hardship on the Afghan people,” he said.

Najim Rahim, Eric Schmitt and Taimoor Shah contributed reporting.

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