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Intelligence Shows Deaths of US Troops Were Result of Russian Bounties to Taliban Militants

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Intelligence Shows Deaths of US Troops Were Result of Russian Bounties to Taliban Militants

2020-06-29 17:27:10

By Laura Tucker, Staff writer; Image: U.S. paratroopers in Afghanistan (Image source: Public domain)

Donald Trump is claiming he wasn't briefed on intelligence that showed some -deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan were the result of the Russians paying bounties to Taliban militants. Not only is he claiming he wasn't briefed — he isn't doing anything to get to the bottom of it either.

Several people familiar with the intelligence said it was unclear how many Americans or coalition troops have been killed or targeted. U.S. forces in Afghanistan lost 10 people to hostile gunfire in 2018 and 16 last year. So far this year, two more have been killed. Along with these deaths, there were also service members killed by "green on blue" hostile incidents by members of Afghan security forces that are believed to have been infiltrated by the Taliban.

The intelligence from the U.S. Special Operations based in Afghanistan led to a restricted high-level White House meeting in March, according to the sources. This led to discussions of possible action by the U.S. to respond, such as diplomatic expressions of disapproval, warnings, and sanctions.

This has brought disagreement of what the U.S. should do going forward, according to a senior U.S. official. Zalmay Khalilzad, the Trump administration special envoy for Afghanistan, wants to confront the Russians, while some of the National Security Council in charge of Russia doesn't feel as strongly about taking immediate action.

Verifying this intelligence could take weeks and typically involves the CIA and National Security Agency keeping an eye on foreign cellphone radio communications. It would be up to national security adviser Robert C. O'Brien to draft the final version of any policy options. The assessment by the CIA already took some time to carry you because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet, throughout all this, the confusion is Donald Trump's denials that he'd heard about it previously. On Saturday he confirmed statements made by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and the White House press secretary that he did not receive briefing on the subject, referring to it as "so-called reports" by the "Fake News."

"Nobody briefed or told me, [Vice President] Pence or Chief of Staff [Mark Meadows] about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an 'anonymous source' by the Fake News. ... Everybody is denying it, and there have not been many attacks on us," the president tweeted. He insisted, "nobody's been tougher on Russia than the Trump administration."

Those who remember that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin over his own intelligence regarding 2016 election interference find that last statement laughable. Further, what is missing from his statement is alarm that it was happening. It would seem the first thing that should have been said was that he would get to the bottom of it. But there's no alarm that it happened — only excuses for why he didn't do anything.

The acting director of national intelligence up until May, Richard Grenell, tweeted, "I never heard this. And it's disgusting how you continue to politicize intelligence."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) expressed the concern that should have come from the president and his administration and insisted that Congress be provided with an explanation.

"This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies  being briefed," she said on ABC News's "This Week."

"But he wants to ignore," Pelosi continued, "He wants to bring them back tot he G-8, despite the annexation of Crimea and invasion of Ukraine, despite what they yielded to [Putin] in Syria, despite [Putin's] intervention in our election, which is well documented by our intelligence community and despite now possibly this allegation, which we should have been briefed on."

Even Trump ally Senate Judiciary Chair Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who golfed with Trump Sunday, tweeted earlier that "I expected the Trump administration to take such allegations seriously and inform Congress immediately as to the reliability of these news reports."

He also said it was "imperative Congress get to the bottom" of Russia's offer "to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region."

The third-highest ranking member of the House GOP, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), tweeted that if the report "is true, the White House must explain" why Trump wasn't briefed, who did know what and when, and "what has been done in response to protect our forces and hold Putin responsible."

One of the people familiar with the issue said, "I don't think that anybody withheld anything and screwed up by not getting to the president on time." Until "you were absolutely sure of the intelligence and the NSC had drawn up policy options, you weren't going to walk into the Oval Office."

To this source, the issue wasn't so much when Trump was briefed, but rather, "now that you are aware of it, what are you going to do about it? That's where the focus should be."

What seems very likely at this point, is that it's more of the same for Trump. He continues only to put out information and speak of it in a way that he believes will help him in November. Former national security adviser John Bolton confirmed as much in his tell-all book, noting that every decision was based on reelection.

Yet, along with all the other situations that seem to pass Trump by, there are American lives at stake. These are people who have dedicated a period of their lives to serving the country, yet he's more worried about telling the public he didn't know there were Russian bounties on their heads than getting to the bottom of it. 

It's the same with the coronavirus pandemic. He's more concerned with how it may affect him in November than actually saving lives. It's also the same as the racial protests. He's more concerned with looking like he's handling it than improving the situation with police brutality.

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