Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
CNN Crashes And Burns With ‘Exclusive’ Report On Russia Arming The Taliban
On July 25, CNN published an alarming report: Two videos obtained exclusively by the cable news network appear to suggest that the Russian government is covertly arming the Taliban fighters that have slowly returned to Afghanistan since the end of NATO combat operations there in 2014.
The report, authored by Nick Paton Walsh and Masoud Popalzai, states that two separate groups of Taliban fighters have received “improved weaponry … that appears to have been supplied by the Russian government,” including heavy machine guns, sniper rifles, and the ubiquitous Kalashnikov assault rifles that are a staple of black markets across the planet. If authenticated, these “exclusive videos” of unknown origin obtained by CNN would confirm growing accusations from U.S. and Afghan military officials that Moscow is arming the very enemy it spent a decade fighting during the Soviet-Afghan War.
The news ricocheted across the media ecosystem, shared indiscriminately and uncritically by many highly influential journalists and researchers; veterans organization VoteVets even shared the story with the sober assessment that “Trump's good buddy Putin appears to be arming the Taliban in Afghanistan with upgraded weapons.”
There’s only one problem: CNN’s report falls apart after the headline. While many of the weapons flaunted by militants certainly appear Russian in origin, the videos provide little direct evidence of a recent arms transfer from the Russian government to Taliban forces, according to weapons experts from U.S. Special Operations Command and several non-governmental conflict arms organizations interviewed by Task & Purpose.
CNN exclusive: Videos suggest Russia may be arming Taliban https://t.co/XHG2d37kzH
— New Day (@NewDay) July 25, 2017
“I've watched the video and frankly can't see anything that is particularly unusual,” James Bevan, a weapons specialist and director of Conflict Armament Research Ltd, told Task & Purpose in an email. “There are Russian weapons, and derivatives of those weapons manufactured in other states, circulating among state and non-state groups in every country in that region.”
The weapons experts consulted by Task & Purpose identified the weapons as Kalashnikov variants that have become pervasive among irregular forces; several U.S.-made M249 Squad Automatic Weapons that fire belt-fed 5.56×45mm NATO rounds, including a mid-90s variant with a long barrel and fixed rifle stock and the lightweight MK-49 paratrooper variant with a stub barrel; the TT-30 Tokarev pistol that’s been a staple of the Russian military since the 1930s, and the Soviet-made 7.62 mm general-purpose PK machine gun that’s been in service since 1961.
None of these weapons touted by the Taliban in the CNN video appear particularly modern, and all but the M249 are regular fixtures of the illicit small arms markets that accounted for 60 percent of the weapons flowing into and out of Afghanistan in the decades leading up to the U.S.-led invasion in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“I suspect after years in Afghanistan, these are easy to get,” Capt. Jason Salata, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command, told Task & Purpose.
What’s more, there is no clear chain of custody between Russia and the two Taliban groups featured in the CNN report; one group pillaged the equipment from a rival Taliban faction, while the other received a shipment of arms from across the Tajikistan border. CNN admits that the videos presented as “suggesting” a link between the Taliban and Moscow “don't provide incontrovertible proof of the trade.”
“There is nothing immediately visible to suggest the weapons are new or any indication (from the footage) that they are all of the same type and origin,” Bevan told Task & Purpose. “Governments that supply rebel and insurgent forces rarely supply new weapons and frequently refrain from supplying their own weapons stocks. This makes any connection between the manufacturing country and the supplier country problematic.”
CNN also notes that the weaponry appears “stripped of any means of identifying their origin," the Russian connection appears dependent on the little more than the less-than-reliable claims of various Taliban goons.
“Unfortunately, CNN did not fully profile erased markings and other efforts to sanitize the weapons,” Bevan added. “This would be a clear indication of organized, state involvement, but also would be unlikely to incriminate any party without further evidence.”
A screenshot from CNN's report suggesting the Russian government is providing arms to the TalibanJared Keller
Indeed, the only arms expert quoted in the CNN story who isn’t a Pentagon or Afghan government official was Benjamin King from the Small Arms Survey independent research group, who explicitly told CNN that videos and photos provided to him for analysis contain little evidence of a recent arms transfer, let alone from Russia.
“[CNN] made some jumps that you certainly can’t make from the weapons themselves,” King told Task & Purpose. “I certainly wouldn’t have made the claim that they were new imports. The generic Tokarev pistols and PK machine guns are old and could have been there for a long time. One of the rifles was an AK-74, so it could have been there for the last 40 years or so.”
If any of the gear appeared new, according to King, it’s the shiny new accessories haphazardly mounted on the Taliban’s new arsenal, like polymer buttstocks and modern telescopic sights such as the Chinese-made JGBG M7 rifle scope that’s the only equipment featured in the CNN video that’s also cited by name in the accompanying report. But even the presence of modern gear doesn’t necessarily signal recent arms transfers between the Russian government and Taliban forces.
“You can purchase one of those things for like $50 on the internet, so it doesn’t seem like a very high-quality military-grade add-on,” King said. “Most of these parts could have just come in the mail."
If U.S. and Afghan military officials want to fret the flow of foreign arms into the country, they should look in the mirror. A declassified 2016 Pentagon audit revealed that nearly half of the 1.5 million firearms provided to Iraqi and Afghan security forces, including nearly 978,000 M4 and M16s, since 2002 have gone missing due to poor regulations and recordkeeping. In 2014, a report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found that some 43% of weapons provided to the Afghan National Security Forces likely ended up in the hands of ISIS or the Taliban.
In recent weeks, American and Afghan military personnel have gone face-to-face with modern weaponry and equipment in enemy hands. According to a July 25 Military Times report, Afghan security forces are increasingly facing off against Taliban fighters armed with M4 carbines outfitted with night vision, infrared laser sights and Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight scopes. A recent Taliban propaganda video appeared to show a fighter rocking FN SCAR (Special Operations Forces Combat Assault Rifle) 7.62mm rifle decked out with a AN/PEQ 5 visible laser likely liberated during an ambush or raid on a weapons depot.
Like the M249, these are all weapons usually deployed by Western militaries — and, like everything else in Afghanistan, they end up in Taliban hands sooner rather than later.
“Afghanistan is swimming in guns,” King told Task & Purpose. “These things are expected to show up everywhere.”
GENEVA/DUBAI (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said he was prepared to take military action to stop Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb but left open whether he would back the use of force to protect Gulf oil supplies that Washington fears may be under threat by Iran.
Worries about a confrontation between Iran and the United States have mounted since attacks last week on two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz shipping lane at the entrance to the Gulf. Washington blamed long-time foe Iran for the incidents.
Tehran denies responsibility but the attacks, and similar ones in May, have further soured relations that have plummeted since Trump pulled the United States out of a landmark international nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018.
Trump has restored and extended U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. That has forced countries around the world to boycott Iranian oil or face sanctions of their own.
But in an interview with Time magazine, Trump, striking a different tone from some Republican lawmakers who have urged a military approach to Iran, said last week's tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman had only a "very minor" impact so far.
Asked if he would consider military action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons or to ensure the free flow of oil through the Gulf, Trump said: "I would certainly go over nuclear weapons and I would keep the other a question mark."
Minnesota Democratic Party staffer under fire for calling USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul a 'murder boat'
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Tuesday he is appalled by a state DFL Party staff member's tweet referring to the recently-launched USS Minneapolis-Saint Paul as a "murder boat."
"Certainly, the disrespect shown is beyond the pale," said Walz, who served in the Army National Guard.
William Davis, who has been the DFL Party's research director and deputy communications director, made the controversial comment in response to a tweet about the launch of a new Navy combat ship in Wisconsin: "But actually, I think it's gross they're using the name of our fine cities for a murder boat," Davis wrote on Twitter over the weekend.
'We are there to deter aggression' — Pompeo addressed CENTCOM on Iran mere moments before Shanahan announced his departure
TAMPA — Minutes before the Acting Secretary of Defense withdrew Tuesday from his confirmation process, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at MacDill Air Force Base about the need to coordinate "diplomatic and defense efforts'' to address rising tensions with Iran.
Pompeo, who arrived in Tampa on Monday, met with Marine Gen. Kenneth McKenzie Jr. and Army Gen. Richard Clarke, commanders of U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command respectively, to align the Government's efforts in the Middle East, according to Central Command.
NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO — The trial of Navy SEAL Chief Eddie Gallagher officially kicked off on Tuesday with the completion of jury selection, opening statements, and witness testimony indicating that drinking alcohol on the front lines of Mosul, Iraq in 2017 seemed to be a common occurrence for members of SEAL Team 7 Alpha Platoon.
Government prosecutors characterized Gallagher as a knife-wielding murderer who not only killed a wounded ISIS fighter but shot indiscriminately at innocent civilians, while the defense argued that those allegations were falsehoods spread by Gallagher's angry subordinates, with attorney Tim Parlatore telling the jury that "this trial is not about murder. It's about mutiny."
President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday that Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan will "not to go forward with his confirmation process."
Trump said that Army Secretary Mark Esper will now serve as acting defense secretary.