Belgium’s military intelligence service, the SGRS, was aware of the support given by Russia to the Taliban rebels fighting in Afghanistan, as well as bounties offered by Russia for American casualties.
The information was revealed by Belgium’s defence minister Philippe Goffin who is also minister for foreign affairs. Goffin was replying to a parliamentary question from MP Samuel Cogolati.
The allegation that Russia had established links with the Taliban – once their enemy in their own futile war in Afghanistan – has been around for some time, but made the headlines when it was alleged that they had been offering Taliban fighters a reward for any American or Nato troops killed.
The official reaction in the US has been mixed, between outrage on one side, and denial on the other. Former general and former secretary of state Colin Powell said media reports were “hysterical.”
General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of US Central Command in the Middle East, said the allegations were “worrisome,” but there was not enough evidence to prove the case.
“It wasn’t proved enough that I’d take it to a court of law,” he said.
US President Donald Trump first claimed he had no knowledge of the intelligence, then later went so far as to describe the reports in major American newspapers as “fake news”. With that word from a president who is known to be a strong supporter of Russian president Vladimir Putin, comes an end to all official discussion.
However if the reports are filtering all the way down to Belgian intelligence, that demonstrates their persistence, even if it does not establish clear proof.
“The SGRS is aware of general Russian support for the Taliban in Afghanistan and confirms a possible Russian interference,” Goffin said.
“According to information available to us from open sources, only one incident could be linked to the bounty program, most notably the car-bomb attack on an American convoy in early April 2019. In that attack, three American soldiers lost their lives,” he said.
Belgium was part of a Nato joint force in Afghanistan until earlier this year, but the troops have now returned home after a one-month delay caused by the coronavirus crisis here.