HERAT -- The Taliban's ongoing acceptance of Russian aid and weaponry, and the group's willingness to perpetrate crimes on behalf of Moscow, prove the Afghan militants have essentially become Russian mercenaries, Afghan officials and observers say.
The New York Times reported June 26 that a Russian intelligence unit, known as Unit 29155, covertly offered rewards for successful attacks on coalition troops in Afghanistan last year amid US-led peace negotiations to end the war between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
Taliban militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are suspected to have collected some bounty money, officials told the newspaper.
The report sparked widespread hatred of the Taliban among Afghans.
Financial incentives and arms provided by Russia and other countries to the Taliban have enabled the militants to resurge, create unrest and engage in bloodshed, said Hasan Hakimi, a civil society activist in Ghor Province.
"As the Taliban receive money and arms from Russia, they are obliged to accept [Russian] demands and fulfill Moscow's orders," he said. "If the Taliban didn't accept Russia's demands, the country would never provide them with money and arms."
"The Taliban receive aid from Russia and travel there, and they kill people and destroy schools and mosques under orders from Russia," said Hakimi, adding that such actions "prove they are Russia's puppets".
The Taliban receive support from their foreign masters and they kill Afghans, Lt. Gen. Iqbal Ali Naderi, the Afghan National Army's deputy chief of staff, told hundreds of soldiers of the 207th Zafar Corps in Guzara District of Herat during a speech on July 20.
"The Taliban impose the proxy wars of foreign intelligence agencies on our country and people," he said, without naming a specific country.
"They have planned their evil and brutal strategies outside Afghanistan, and they carry them out inside Afghanistan," he added.
Modern Russian weapons
Following a Taliban attack on security forces on July 15 in Adraskan District, Herat Province, authorities discovered modern Russian arms among the bodies of 15 militants.
In the Adraskan clash, security forces seized several arms, including two sets of weapons equipped with night-vision binoculars, said Herat Police Chief Col. Obaidullah Noorzai.
Most of the Taliban's weapons are made in Russia, and they have recently received modern Russian arms as well, said Noorzai.
"The arms equipped with night-vision binoculars are among the dangerous weapons that have often posed serious threats to the security forces," he said. "Anyone who finances and arms the Taliban is our enemy."
Every day, the Taliban kill innocent civilians and security forces with the arms they have received from Russia, said Abdullah Afzali, deputy chairman of the Badghis provincial council.
"Russia's support of the Taliban has worried us as it strengthens the Taliban's ranks throughout the country," he said.
"In addition to Russia, a number of other countries that have ties with Moscow support the Taliban to achieve their political and intelligence goals," Afzali added.
Russian support of the Taliban is obvious meddling in Afghan affairs, and it has prolonged the war and destroyed the country, he said.
An old enemy
Many Afghans still consider the Kremlin an enemy after the 1979-1989 Soviet invasion that injured and killed millions.
The Russian regime has always interfered in internal Afghan matters, and it never has allowed Afghans to live in peace, said Khair Muhammad Lutf, secretary of the Civil Society Network in Badghis Province.
"Russia supports the Taliban and their killing of Afghans to ensure that the bloodshed continues similar to the years that the Soviet Union blatantly invaded our country," he said.
"Russia has massacred millions of our countrymen, but the Taliban shamelessly nurture friendship with this enemy of ours, and they kill Muslims of Afghanistan with the money and weapons they receive from our old enemy," Lutf added.
"Russia needs to rethink its support to the Taliban and their killing of Afghans; otherwise, Afghans will repeat the lesson they gave Russia 30 years back in which it suffered a historic defeat," he said.
"The Afghan people still suffer from the Soviet invasion, which was the reason behind the war and emergence of terrorist groups," said Muhammad Iqbal Nazari, a resident of Nimroz Province. "The main reason behind the war that has ruined Afghans is Russia."
"Afghans have become hopeful for the first time for peace in their country, but Russia tries to prolong the war and bloodshed of Afghans by providing money and weapons to the Taliban," he said.
"No Afghan will ever forget the atrocities that Russians committed in Afghanistan," he added. "The ruins left from the Soviet invasion are still present everywhere in Afghanistan, and mass graves are everywhere."
The Taliban's friendship with Russia is an insult to the blood of millions of Afghan martyrs who sacrificed their lives fighting the Soviet invasion and defending Afghanistan, he said.