- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 29, 2017

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Joseph Votel accused Russia of providing support to the Taliban in Afghanistan during testimony to House lawmakers Wednesday.

His comments come as the Trump administration continues to work a long-term blueprint for continued U.S. military involvement in the Afghan war, which is now in it’s 16th year.

While no decision has been made, one factor U.S. military leaders and administration officials have been wrestling with is Russia’s apparent efforts to forge alliances with the Taliban, Gen. Votel told members of the House Armed Services Committee Wednesday.

“We are in the process of going through a review of [U.S.] posture in Afghanistan, and how we ought to look at that going forward,” he said, noting that former Central Command chief and current Defense Secretary James Mattis “has been very engaged” in those discussions.

California Democrat Rep. Susan Davis pressed the four-star general during Wednesday’s House hearing for his take on Russia’s involvement and eventual endgame is in Afghanistan.

“I believe what Russia is attempting to do is they are attempting to be an influential party in this part of the world,” the four-star general said. “I think it is fair to assume they may be providing some sort of support to [the Taliban], in terms of weapons or other things that may be there,” he added.

President Trump, who thus far as focused his efforts toward the ongoing campaign to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, is weighing the allegations of Russian involvement seriously.

“There are several entities looking into this, and …  I will say that [Gen. Votel’s] response speaks for itself,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said regarding Moscow’s alleged ties to the Taliban. “We understand the intelligence on this [and]  president’s been briefed on it,” he told reporters Wednesday.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson and Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, head of U.S. European Command and NATO Supreme Allied Commander, both testified to increased Russian involvement in Afghanistan before Congress in recent weeks.

“I’ve seen the influence of Russia, of late, an increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,” Gen. Scaparrotti told members of the Senate Armed Services panel last week.

But Gen. Votel was quick to note that while U.S. intelligence indicates attempts by Moscow to ally themselves with the Taliban, “I think there is a lot we [still] do not know about what Russia is doing” in country.

Situation in the country remains a stalemate between Kabul and extremist groups, with a slight advantage for the President Asraf Ghani’s regime, the Central Command chief said. “Stalemates have the tendency to decline over time, so I do think we have to continue to support this [mission],” Gen. Votel told panel members. 

• Carlo Muñoz can be reached at cmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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