Two groups of Taliban fighters said they have weapons supplied by the Russians, CNN reported on Tuesday, reinforcing claims by US military officials that the Kremlin is arming its one-time foe.
The report cites videos showing members of two separate groups of Taliban forces in the war-torn country with Kalashnikov rifles and machine guns that have been stripped of identifying marks.
One video shows a group near Herat posing with a variety of weapons that they said were taken from rival Taliban forces led by Mullah Haibatullah, the report said.
“These weapons were given to the fighters of Mullah Haibatullah by the Russians via Iran,” said their deputy leader, Mullah Abdul Manan Niazi.
In the other video, a masked Taliban fighter near Kabul sits with arms he said were obtained in the northern province of Kunduz on the border with Tajikstan.
“These pistols have been brought to us recently,” he said, according to CNN. “These are made in Russia, and are very good stuff.”
An Afgan government spokesman said “there is no smoke without fire.”
“The Russians have said that they maintain contact with the Taliban, we have lots of other reports from other people they are arming the Taliban,” Sediq Sediqi told CNN. “That’s why our intelligence agencies are up to the job to find out what level of support that is to the Taliban.”
The Russian foreign ministry declined to comment but it has previously called such claims “utterly false.”
Gen. John Nicholson, asked in April about Russia supplying weapons to the Taliban, said “we continue to get reports of this assistance.”
“We support anyone who wants to help us advance the reconciliation process, but anyone who arms belligerents … is not the best way forward to a peaceful reconciliation,” he said.
A senior US military official told the New York Times in April that the Russians have been giving Taliban forces weapons, claiming they are being used in the fight against Islamic State terrorists.
Defense Secretary James Mattis said if Russia was supplying weapons to the Taliban it would be a violation of international law.
Russia fought its own war in Afghanistan in the 1980s against the Mujahideen, the predecessors of the Taliban.