A New York Times news story claiming that a unit of Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) was paying a bounty to Taliban fighters to target and kill American troops in Afghanistan has created a political maelstrom never before seen. Claiming that Russian President Vladimir Putin had approved the bounty policy, the scandal caught President Donald Trump napping.
According to the news account, Trump was briefed in March and was subsequently presented with a number of possible policy responses, but did not take any action. Trump’s inability to respond to a national security incident quickly spread in other media outlets, which unleashed a tsunami of criticism against Trump. But Trump, in his usual modus operandi, denied receiving the intelligence report, which was contained in a Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) given to him on February 27, 2020. Neither did Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Mark Meadow been briefed on the matter. The PDB is a compendium of foreign policy and national security intelligence compiled for Trump to read and to take action if necessary. However, Trump admitted in a tweet, “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP.” So, who’s telling the truth?
The NYT further said, “Subsequent news reports identified the GRU operatives as members of a secret group called Unit 29155. The unit is believed to be tasked with foreign assassinations and other covert activities aimed at destabilizing European countries.” But the Kremlin and the Taliban denied the report, which is expected. Do you think they’ll admit it?
The next day, the Pentagon issued a statement, declaring, “The Department of Defense continues to evaluate intelligence that Russian GRU operatives were engaged in malign activity against United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan.”
However, interrogations of captured Taliban fighters played a central role in making the intelligence community confident in its assessment that the Russians indeed paid bounties in 2019.
The NYT report added, “Two officials said the information about the bounty hunting was ‘well known’ among the intelligence community in Afghanistan, including the CIA’s chief of station and other top officials there, like the military commandos hunting the Taliban.”
Charlie Wilson’s War
It is a fact that Russia is actively supporting the Taliban with cash, arms, supplies, and intelligence just like the way it was in the 1980’s during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan.
As the story goes, then-Congressman Charlie Wilson was drawn into the Afghan resistance against the Soviets who were fighting the fierce mujahideen in the mountains of Afghanistan.
As a member of the House budget subcommittee who dealt with secret funding for the CIA, he used the position to secure a doubling of aid to the mujahideen.
Over the years, he would channel hundreds of millions of dollars to the Afghan resistance, saying he wanted “to make sure Afghans could do everything possible to kill Russians, as painfully as possible.”
The weapon of choice used by the mujahideen was the shoulder-fired Stinger missile, which was lethal against the low-flying helicopter gunships employed by the Soviets to terrorize the local population. By 1986, Stingers were arriving by the planeload in Pakistan for delivery to the mujahideen. Three years later, Moscow concluded the war was unwinnable and pulled out. Less than three years after that, the Soviet Union itself collapsed. Asked in an interview on US television about the turn of the war’s tide against Moscow, Pakistan’s former president Zia ul-Haq replied, “Charlie did it.” The whole episode was immortalized in “Charlie Wilson’s War,” a 2007 motion picture.
As you can see, the Russians will never forget what happened to them in Afghanistan in 1986. Thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, the Russians switched roles with the Americans – they’re siding with the mujahideens in fighting the American occupation. The Russians are doing to the Americans exactly what The Americans did to the Soviets back in the 1980s.
The U.S. had 17 soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan in 2019, and another four killed so far in 2020. In February, the U.S. reached an agreement with the Taliban to end the fighting. In return, the U.S. agreed to pull out of Afghanistan. The Taliban has refrained from attacking U.S. military personnel since then.
The Russians have been paying bounties to the Afghans for some time now without causing criticism. But that was then when it was the only reason to motivate the Afghans to kill Americans. It’s all about money. The mighty Dollar flooded the country for years, paying off the warlords who commanded the loyalty of the Afghan mujahideens. And the GRU – the CIA’s Russian counterparts – keeps account of the bounties paid, which were as much as $100,000 per each American killed.
A recent report pinpoints a key figure in the alleged Russian-backed bounty program. The NYT named Rahmatullah Azizi as a “central player” – a middleman — in attempts to launder money from Russia into Afghanistan in order to make payments to the Taliban. Attempts were made to detain Azizi at least six months ago, but it was believed that he has fled to Russia. Security forces found roughly $500,000 in cash in one of his Kabul properties.
It’s interesting to note that Aziz was once a beneficiary of U.S. largess but has turned to the Russians. Azizi, a small-time drug smuggler, reportedly was a former recipient of U.S. contractor cash for road building in the early days of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, until he allegedly found more lucrative options. I guess he found switching sides more profitable.
Meanwhile, with the entire hullabaloo about the alleged Russian bounty program, one wonders how money was transferred from Russia to the Taliban bounty killer?
According to three American officials familiar with the intelligence, electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s GRU to a Taliban-linked account, which supported their conclusion that Russia covertly offered bounties for killing American and NATO troops in Afghanistan.
These electronic intercepts from GRU down to the Afghan middlemen are then sent to the bounty killers themselves before they were dispatched to target the American and coalition forces. These intercepts are electronic paper trail for “services asked and services rendered,” which is proof that the Taliban were “killers for hire.” This disclosure further undercut White House officials’ claim that the intelligence was “too uncertain” to brief Trump on February 27 in a PDB. But Trump seldom read the briefs provided by intelligence, which by not doing so could undermine the country’s national security. However, Trump whose relationship with Putin is like a puppy dog that lovingly licks his master’s hands is not too keen about reading the PDB’s, particularly if the subject is Russia or Putin. Trump on many occasions had shown aversion or displeasure to reading anything – usually bad – about Russia, which makes one wonder: Is Putin keeping a secret that would – or could — horrendously embarrass Trump, which could create a national scandal of the magnitude 12 on the Richter scale?
So it’s no wonder that Trump offered Russia to rejoin the G7 back in March – after the Russian bounty PDB was released — and ordered the withdrawal of 9,500 American troops from Germany, all the while the Taliban were killing Americans at the behest of Russia, which makes one wonder: What would Trump going to do now that the cat is out of the bag?
With the American people’s outrage over Russia’s bounty killing in full view, Trump is still unmoved like a Robert E. Lee monument erectly standing still, a relic of the country’s divisive civil war. He’s still preoccupied with his re-election campaign, which is hurting badly due to the pandemic and ongoing street protests for racial justice. However, the Pentagon and the intelligence community began looking at options on how to deal with the situation, including economic sanctions, which could further cause damage to Russia’s economy. But the bottom line is: It’s up to Trump the commander-in-chief to decide which way to go.
But Trump to this day isn’t convinced that his BFF – best friend forever — Putin has stabbed him in the back. He calls the Russian bounty program a “hoax.” “The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party,” Trump said. “The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself.”
Trump’s bullheadedness makes one wonder: Is he putting the security of the nation on perilous ground?