KABUL — 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 that 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, Army Gen. John Nicholson Jr., said in Senate testimony in February.
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Featured image courtesy of EPA