KABUL: The Taliban has denied US media reports claiming a Russian intelligence unit secretly rewarded them for targeting American troops in Afghanistan.
“We have heard these reports and they are false and baseless,” Zabihullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said in a statement on Saturday.
He added that the group had “neither sought nor received any aid from any country or intelligence agency in 19 years of war.”
Mujahid said the Taliban lack advanced weaponry to carry out sophisticated attacks on US targets, which he said is proof they have not received foreign arms.
“We have used whatever resources we have had in Afghanistan, or prepared, for example, road and car bombs from explosives and materials available locally.”
He said the group has not targeted US forces since the two sides signed a peace deal in Doha in late February. In accordance with the agreement, US troops are set to leave Afghanistan by spring 2021.
Earlier on Saturday, the New York Times and two other American dailies reported that US intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan and targeting US troops.
Mujahid said that some circles in the US were disappointed by the Doha deal.
“They want to prevent the withdrawal of Americans from here because they will lose the resources and income they have earned from continuing the war, and they want to do everything for their survival,” he said.
While Russia suffered a humiliating retreat after nearly 10 years in Afghanistan in the 1980s, it has joined Iran, Pakistan and China in opposing the US presence in the country.
Although Afghan officials in the past have failed to find direct military links between the Taliban and Moscow, some provincial officials said Russians provided intelligence to the group when it captured the northern city of Kunduz, near the border with Tajikistan, in 2015 and 2016.
Analyst Zabihullah Pakteen said Russia has been a vocal supporter of the Taliban in their war against Daesh. He added that the US report on bounties could refer to events before the Qatar deal and that its leak could be a strategic play linked to the withdrawal of US troops.
“Russian involvement in Afghanistan in giving bounties to kill US soldiers certainly puts pressure on the Trump administration as the US election approaches. The most important aspect of intelligence leaking could be connected to troop withdrawal, so the US would have to stay to confront Russia and other adversaries in the region,” he told Arab News.
Thousands of US troops have already left Afghanistan following the Doha deal.
The allegation of Taliban-Russian links, which could delay the departure of several thousand more US troops, comes as US President Donald Trump is on the campaign trail, fighting for for a second term in the White House.