While the U.S. wasn’t looking, Russia and Iran began carving out a bigger role in Afghanistan
Iran and Russia have stepped up challenges to U.S. power in Afghanistan, American and Afghan officials say, seizing on the uncertainty of future U.S. policy to expand ties with the Taliban and weaken the country's Western-backed government.
The moves come as tensions have flared between the United States, Iran and Russia over the conflict in Syria, and officials worry the fallout could hurt Afghanistan's chances for peace. For years, Iran and Russia have pushed for a U.S. withdrawal
Now, as the Taliban gains ground and the White House appears to lack a clear Afghan policy, Iran and Russia have boosted support for insurgents and sidelined the United States from regional diplomacy on the war.
Russia on Friday will host high-level talks on Afghanistan with Iranian, Pakistani, and Chinese diplomats, the Kremlin said. But the United States, irked by Moscow's recent outreach to the Taliban, has not confirmed whether it will attend.
Russia has “begun to publicly legitimize the Taliban” and recent Russian and Iranian actions in Afghanistan “are to undermine the United States and NATO,” the top commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, said in Senate testimony in February.
Nicholson said Iran and Russia “are communicating about the efforts” to support Taliban insurgents, and that Russia has “become more assertive over the past year.”
“We know there is a dialogue. We know there is a relationship between Iran and Russia” in Afghanistan, he said. And Iran, which shares a long, porous border with Afghanistan, “is directly supporting the Taliban” in the western part of the country, he said.
While Russia and Iran appear to be unlikely allies with a hard-line Sunni group such as the Taliban, the two countries have for years played the different sides of the conflict. Both supported the U.S.-backed ouster of the Taliban in 2001, and Iran was the chief benefactor of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. - More, washingtonpost