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Russian Foreign Ministry: American Soldiers Selling Weapons to IS

Russian Foreign Ministry

Russian Foreign Ministry

“The Afghan website Payam Aftab carried an article about the detention of three U.S. servicemen with a consignment of arms in the Kokistanat District of the northern province of Sar-e Pol last January. ISIS commandos who were going to buy these arms from the Americans were caught at the same time with a huge sum of money.”

The story appears to be a fabrication.

The Russian Ministry statement, issued Tuesday, was headlined “Comment by the Information and Press Department on repeated accusations of Russian support for the Taliban.” In fact, the statement contained little about Russia and the Taliban, apart from a complaint that “some Afghan MPs and heads of provincial Afghan security agencies” continue to make “insinuations” about - and “accusations” against - Russia “for allegedly supporting the Taliban.”

In fact, the “insinuations” and “accusations” referred to in the statement are likely based on Russia’s own actions and statements. For instance, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy in Kabul, Zamir Kabulov, said in March that Russia views the Taliban as a “legitimate” party to conflict resolution because it is “no longer pursuing jihad.”

In its statement Tuesday, the Russian Foreign Ministry said the police chief of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, Abdul Raziq, “alleged that Russia is helping the Taliban with money and arms supplies.”

Rather than denying that accusation, the ministry detailed what it said was an article posted by an Afghan website called Payam Aftab, which claimed that American troops were arrested in Afghanistan while trying to sell weapons to “IS commandos.”

The ministry claimed the Afghan website reported that the three U.S. servicemen were subsequently “released from custody and transferred to their command, while all documents, including interrogation records, money and arms, mysteriously disappeared."

Payam Aftab publishes in two languages: Persian and English. It is difficult to obtain information about the website, including who owns it and its editorial policy, since the “About us” section of the website is empty.

Apart from news reports, the website offers opinions and analyses, most of which are published under the byline of Sayyed Mohammad Baqer Mesbahzadeh. His analyses mainly feature anti-Western, anti-Israeli conspiracy theories. For example, one of his recent pieces was headlined: “Shia: The target of conspiracies of Imperialism, Zionism and Fascism.”

A person with that same name and a similar profile photograph on LinkedIn claims to be living in the United States, and identifies himself as the owner of the Payam Aftab news agency and the chief-editor of the website.

Mohammad Baqer Mesbahzadeh Editor-in Chief, Payam Aftab
Mohammad Baqer Mesbahzadeh Editor-in Chief, Payam Aftab

At the time of publication, was unable to obtain a comment from Sayyed Mohammad Baqer Mesbahzadeh via the Payam Aftab website’s “contact us” form or via LinkedIn.

At the same time, the article referred to by the Russian Foreign Ministry was not among any of the articles posted on the Payam Aftab website, either in Persian or English. This means the article was either removed or never existed.

Meanwhile, on May 24, a day after the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement, Payam Aftab posted a news report in Persian which was headlined: “The Russian Foreign Ministry said Moscow’s military support to the Taliban in Afghanistan is not true, but a group of American soldiers has been selling weapons to ISIS.”

Screenshot of Payam Aftab website with report on Russian Foreign Monistry statement
Screenshot of Payam Aftab website with report on Russian Foreign Monistry statement

”According to a Russian Foreign Ministry statement, three U.S. servicemen with arms and ammunitions, were arrested in the Kohistanat district of Sar-e-Pul province,” Payam Aftab’s Persian-language report continued. “Some IS members who wanted to purchase arms from the three Americans were also arrested.”

Payam Aftab’s Persian-language report made no mention of the fact that, just a day earlier, the Russian Foreign Ministry had cited the website as the source of the original report alleging that U.S. servicemen had tried to sell weapons to IS commanders.

“U.S. and Afghan officials remain silent on this matter and have not reacted to the reports,” Payam Aftab’s Persian-language report stated. asked Afghan authorities for information about this alleged incident.

“Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense is not aware of any such accidents,” ministry spokesman General Dawlat Waziri told the Voice of America’s Afghan service. He dismissed the Russian Foreign Ministry’s statement as baseless “rumors.”

In his book “Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia,” UK-based investigative journalist Peter Pomerantsev details the techniques used by the “Kremlin propaganda machine” to “fabricate alternative reality.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry statement, apparently based on a non-existing report by an obscure website, would seem to fit into Pomerantsev’s description of a “fabricated reality.”