Russia is funding Taliban military operations against Nato in Afghanistan through a covert programme of laundered fuel sales, it has learnt from members of the Islamist group and Afghan officials.
Russian intelligence services are sending fleets of fuel tankers into Afghanistan through the Hairatan border crossing with Uzbekistan. From there, they are delivered free of charge to front companies operating on behalf of the Taliban. The arrangement allows about $2.5 million raised in cash from the sale of the fuel each month to be delivered directly to insurgent paymasters.
Russia has accelerated its support in recent months in an apparent attempt to bolster the Taliban against Islamic State. The trade has become part of the revived â€œproxy warâ€ strategy against the US and its allies, which stretches across battlefields from Ukraine to Syria.
â€œWe sell the fuel on and distribute the money directly to our commanders,â€ a Taliban treasurer from Ghazni province said. He had been authorised to speak to a journalist as part of the Talibanâ€™s efforts to advertise its relationship with international backers, in response to President Trumpâ€™s decision in August to send 3,800 additional US troops and further funding to the Afghan government.
â€œAccepting money from the Russians is not something we like doing,â€ the Taliban treasurer said, â€œbut it is necessary at this stage of our jihad.â€
Moscow has been repeatedly accused by senior US officials of supporting the Taliban. â€œRussia does supply arms to the Taliban, and this, of course, is a violation of international norms and violation of the norms of the UN security council,â€ Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, said recently.