Russia may be aiding Taliban, US general in Afghanistan says

PHOTO: Defense Secretary James Mattis, right, and U.S. Army General John Nicholson, left, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, hold a news conference at Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan, April 24, 2017.PlayJonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP Photo
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Russia is believed to be the source of an influx of weapons to the Taliban in Afghanistan, General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said in a press conference on Monday.

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Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who appeared with Nicholson at Resolute Support headquarters, said the U.S. would have to "confront Russia" over "denying the sovereignty of other countries," including Afghanistan.

"For example, any weapons being funneled here from a foreign country would be a violation of international law," said Mattis.

Asked if he would refute claims that Russia is providing weapons to the Taliban, Nicholson answered definitively.

"Oh no, I’m not refuting that," the general said.

Nicholson said the U.S. has continued to receive reports of Russian assistance to the Taliban.

While Mattis said that the U.S. would "engage with Russia diplomatically," he spoke in stronger terms about the threat of the Taliban and of ISIS in Afghanistan and expressed confidence about his ability to advise President Donald Trump on U.S. policy in the region upon his return.

“We are under no illusions about the challenges associated with this mission,” said Mattis, who called the Taliban a "barbaric enemy" as he referenced an attack Friday that killed more than 100 at an Afghan military base.

On ISIS, Nicholson issued a warning to the terrorist organization that is currently centered within Iraq and Syria.

"If they come here to Afghanistan, they will be destroyed. In keeping secretary’s intent, they will be annihilated," said Nicholson, who noted that ISIS attempts to gain a foothold in the country have been mostly repelled.

"We’re going to keep going until they’re defeated in 2017," said Nicholson. "Now they have an aspiration, I think, to move fighters here from Syria. We haven’t seen it happen. And, in fact, by reducing their sanctuary here, by annihilating them here, it should very clear to ISIS main there is no space to come to in Afghanistan.”