WHITE HOUSE - Russian and U.S. officials traded accusations on Thursday over their respective policies in Afghanistan, pointing fingers of blame at each other.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed regret that the main focus of U.S. President Donald Trump’s new Afghanistan strategy is “regulation by methods of force.”
“We are certain this is a futile course,” Lavrov said.
Asked for a response by VOA, a senior U.S. administration official said what Trump put forward Monday in a nationally televised address “is not a military-only strategy. There’s a strong diplomatic, political element, even economic element to the strategy. So, it’s just factually incorrect to say that this is just an overly militaristic strategy.”
The Russians, the U.S. official added, “have been spreading some very unhelpful propaganda with respect to the U.S. role in Afghanistan.”
Russia is also trying to claim the United States is supporting the so-called Islamic State (IS) group in Afghanistan, “which is fictitious," the official added.
“They are seeking to undermine our reputation in the region and sew false information about U.S. objectives,” the official said. “It doesn’t surprise me because I think the Russians see themselves as competitors for influence in the region.”
U.S. officials say Moscow’s concern about IS is driving them to consider support to the Taliban.
“To the extent Russia is supplying arms to the Taliban, that is a violation, obviously, of international norms,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Tuesday.
“It's not the first time we are accused of supporting and even arming the Taliban,” Lavrov told reporters on Thursday. “Not one fact has been presented" to support this.”
Trump this week announced 4,000 new troops for deployment to Afghanistan, backtracking from his earlier promise to end America's longest war, though other specifics of the plan remain unclear.
Message to Taliban
Earlier Thursday in Kabul, U.S. Army General John Nicholson, the commander of the NATO mission and U.S. forces in the country, made a direct appeal to the Taliban.
“I say you have a simple choice: Stop fighting against your countrymen. Stop killing innocent civilians. Stop bringing hardship and misery to the Afghan people,” Nicholson said. “Lay down your arms and join Afghan society. Help build a better future for this country and your own children.”
With the announcement of Trump’s policy, “the Taliban cannot win on the battlefield. It is time for them to join the peace process,” added the general, who called the Taliban “a criminal organization, more interested in the profits they find in drugs, kidnapping, and murder for hire than offering anything better to the Afghan people.”
Nicholson also said Islamic State “is being crushed in Nangarhar (a province in the eastern part of the country) and we will pursue them, and annihilate them wherever they go.”
The conflict in Afghanistan, with a factionalized unity government riddled with systemic corruption, has dragged on for 16 years - since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaida attacks on the United States.