On Friday night, The New York Times reported that, according to intelligence reports, Russia offered bounties to Afghan opposition forces to kill U.S. and allied troops. Furthermore, the Txxxx administration has been deliberating for months about what to do in response:
The intelligence finding was briefed to President Txxxx, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.
Today, The Times added details:
United States intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors as early as January to a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, according to officials briefed on the matter….
Armed with this information, military and intelligence officials have been reviewing American and other coalition combat casualties since early last year to determine whether any were victims of the plot. Four Americans were killed in combat in early 2020, but the Taliban have not attacked American positions since a February agreement to end the long-running war in Afghanistan.
The details … emerged as the White House confronted a growing chorus of criticism on Sunday over its apparent failure to authorize a response to Russia….
Though the White House press secretary … claimed on Saturday that [Txxxx] had not been briefed about the intelligence report, one American official had told The Times that the report was briefed to the highest levels of the White House. Another said it was included in the President’s Daily Brief, a compendium of foreign policy and national security intelligence compiled for [Txxxx] to read.
In addition to saying he was never “briefed or told” about the intelligence report — a formulation that went beyond the White House denial of any formal briefing — [the president] also cast doubt on the assessment’s credibility, which statements from his subordinates had not.
Specifically, he described the intelligence report as being about “so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians”; the report described bounties paid to Taliban militants by Russian military intelligence officers, not direct attacks. [He] also suggested that the developments could be a “hoax” and questioned whether The Times’s sources — government officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity — existed….
Two officials said the information about the bounty hunting was “well known” among the intelligence community in Afghanistan, including the C.I.A.’s chief of station and other top officials there, like the military commandos hunting the Taliban. The information was distributed in intelligence reports and highlighted in some of them.
The assessment was compiled and sent up the chain of command to senior military and intelligence officials, eventually landing at the highest levels of the White House. The Security Council meeting in March came at a delicate time, as the coronavirus pandemic was becoming a crisis and prompting shutdowns around the country….
[Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi] said that if the president had not, in fact, been briefed, then the country should be concerned that his administration was afraid to share with him information regarding Russia.
Ms. Pelosi said that the episode underscored Mr. Txxxx’s accommodating stance toward Russia and that with him, “all roads lead to Putin.”
“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,” she said. “Whether he is or not, his administration knows, and some of our allies who work with us in Afghanistan have been briefed and accept this report.”
John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, said … that he was not aware of the intelligence assessment, but he questioned Mr. Txxxx’s response….
“What would motivate the president to do that, because it looks bad if Russians are paying to kill Americans and we’re not doing anything about it?” Mr. Bolton said. “The presidential reaction is to say: ‘It’s not my responsibility. Nobody told me about it.’ And therefore to duck any complaints that he hasn’t acted effectively.”
Mr. Bolton said this summed up Mr. Txxxx’s decision-making on national security issues. “It’s just unconnected to the reality he’s dealing with.”
So, officials say the matter was discussed for months at the highest levels of the Administration, but the press secretary and another official or two, whose job regularly requires that they lie to protect the president, claim that neither the president nor Vice President Pence were informed. John Bolton, the National Security Adviser in 2019, also says that he knew nothing about it, but he’s not surprised that the president is divorced from reality. Of course, nothing any of these people say should be trusted.
Tonight The Washington Post reports:
Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.
Several people familiar with the matter said it was unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program. U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019. Two have been killed this year.
Two papers devoted to military news, Stars and Stripes and Military Times, are headlining this story. Some of the president’s most ardent supporters are in the military. Will hearing about this cause any of them to reconsider their support for a Commander-in-Chief who greatly admires Vladimir Putin and did nothing in response to Russia targeting their fellow service members? Either because he didn’t care or was clueless?
They should. We can hope.