The Taliban has denied that it held talks with Russian officials about efforts to combat Islamic State (IS) militants in Afghanistan as a British newspaper reported that President Vladimir Putin had met the group's leader earlier this year.
The insurgent group was responding to December 23 comments by Zamir Kabulov, Putin's special envoy on Afghanistan, who was quoted by Interfax as saying that Moscow had established communication channels to exchange information with the Taliban.
Kabulov said Russia's interests in Afghanistan "objectively coincide" with those of the Taliban in the fight against the IS group, also known as Daesh.
We "do not see a need for receiving aid from anyone concerning so-called Daesh, and neither have we contacted nor talked with anyone about this issue," the Taliban said in an English-language statement on its website.
Britain's Sunday Times newspaper on December 27 quoted an unidentified "senior Taliban commander" as saying that Putin and Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Mansur met in September on a military base in Tajikistan to discuss possible collaboration on fighting IS forces.
IS militants control large swaths of Syria and Iraq, and there are indications that the extremist group’s popularity is growing in Afghanistan.
Fighters pledging loyalty to IS reportedly overran new areas in the eastern province of Nangarhar earlier this month, causing many people to flee their homes.
The reported advance came just days after the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, John Campbell, said "foreign fighters" from Syria and Iraq had joined with militants in Afghanistan loyal to the IS group and were trying to establish a regional base in Nangarhar.
Afghan officials say they are also trying to track down broadcasts made by a pro-IS radio station that has been heard in the region recently.
The Taliban nonetheless remains a significantly more potent force in Afghanistan. In its statement denying it held talks with Russia, the group dismissed IS militants as a threat to the country.
"Some people in Afghanistan are wrongfully taking advantage of the name Daesh while national and international intelligence are also supporting them with the aim of prolonging the [American] occupation," the group said.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, Interfax, Radio Free Afghanistan, and The Sunday Times