U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis was questioned yesterday during a press conference about the influx of Russian weapons that are ending up in Taliban hands in the Afghanistan Provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Urozgan.
Mattis explained that the Russians “seem to be choosing to be strategic competitors in a number of areas” and said that U.S. will have to confront Russia where what they are doing runs contrary to international law or denies the sovereignty of other countries.
Mattis admitted the U.S. will engage with Russia diplomatically but said that any weapons funneled to Afghanistan from another foreign country would represent a violation of international law unless they are coming through the government of Afghanistan.
U.S. General John Nicholson, who commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan engaged in combat against ISIS and Taliban fighters, said during the press conference that they continue to get reports of Russian assistance with weapons.
Asked if he refuted the claim that the Russians are sending weapons to the Taliban, General Nicholson replied, “No, I’m not refuting that. ”
On Friday the Taliban carried out a deadly attack against an Afghan military base near Mazar-i-Sharif that killed and wounded over 100.
General Nicholson said on Monday that arming and legitimizing Taliban militants, whom he referred to as “belligerents” that perpetuate attacks they saw two days ago in Mazar-i Sharif is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation.
Russia has been choosing “strategic competitors” that are directly opposed to the interests of U.S. and coalition partners in several other locations across the world, including Syria and Ukraine.
Russia supports the Assad regime in Syria which has conducted large scale chemical weapons attacks in Damascus killing over 1,000 civilians and more recently on April 4th in the Idlib Province that killed 87 civilians and led to widespread criticism from the West and other Arab allies in the region.
Russia has also sent troops into Crimea before annexing the Ukrainian territory in March 2014 and they stand accused of supporting Russian separatists in southeastern Ukraine in the Donbass region.
On Monday during a White House briefing, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said that the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Asset Control has imposed Syrian sanctions in response to the April 4th, 2017 sarin attack on civilians by the Assad government that includes sanctioning 271 employees from Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center, the government agency in Syria responsible for developing and producing nonconventional weapons.
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