One of the biggest changes in the war in Afghanistan over the past year is the new involvement of Russia and Iran in that country, Army Gen. John Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. Nicholson, commander of Operation Resolute Support in Afghanistan, said Russia is waging an information war that intends to produce a “public legitimizing of the Taliban.” US intelligence has also had received “reports of support provided to the Taliban in the north” by Russia, Nicholson said. Russia’s goal, he said, is ultimately to disrupt American influence in the region. While admitting that Russia has “legitimate concerns” in Afghanistan relating to narcotics and terrorism, he said Russia refuses to acknowledge that “we are dealing with those concerns.” Iran, Nicholson said, has been using the Taliban as a “medium” for channeling support to terrorist groups in the country. While “undermining the Afghan government” is the aim of both Russia’s and Iran’s engagement, Nicholson said Afghan-Iran relations have greater “potential for positive outcome” because of real “mutual interests” in commerce and water rights between the two countries.
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.