File photo used for representational purposes only.
WASHINGTON: A leaked US intelligence assessment that Russia secretly offered Afghan militants bounties to kill US Troops and the White House sat on this knowledge rocked the Trump administration on Saturday, igniting renewed questions about what stranglehold Moscow has on the US President.
Trump had barely overcome the tag of being a “Russian stooge” after months of probe into such allegations when the issue resurfaced following reports that an arm of the Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU initiated attacks on US troops through militants in what would be tantamount to payback for what the US did to Moscow in the 1980s.
Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the New York Times, which first reported the story, said. It revealed the intelligence finding was conveyed to the President and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, but no acton had been taken on a menu of options, including an escalating series of sanctions and other responses.
The Russian Embassy in Washington responded strongly to the report, calling it “fake news” that threatened the lives of Russian diplomats. “Baseless and anonymous accusations [published by @nytimes] of Moscow as mastermind behind killing of US soldiers in Afghanistan have already led to direct threats to the life of employees of the Russian Embassies in Washington D.C. and London,” it said in a tweet tagged to NYT. The Taliban in Afghanistan also denied the report, essentially saying it was killing Americans on its own accord without instigation from Russia but “that changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them.”
Trump ignored the story (at least till the time of writing) as he continued to attack Democrats and liberals over the BlackLivesMatter protests and the downing of statues of Confederate heroes. But his critics pilloried him under the hashtag #TraitorTrump, accusing him of trading American lives for his re-election and valuing the Confederate statues more than the lives of American soldiers.
Some commentators pointed out in the months since the administration knew about the bounties, Trump invited Putin to join the G-7 summit, planned for pulling troops out of Germany and failed to act against growing Russian cyber attacks on the US. “Here’s what Trump said 2 months after finding out Russia was paying bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops: ‘We have this great friendship. And, by the way, getting along with Russia is a great thing,'” noted one Democratic Senator, saying it was “basically a green light for Putin to keep executing our soldiers.”
The embattled President has long been seen as sympathetic to Russia even though he insists no one has been tougher on Moscow than him. But many of his words and actions have alienated Washington’s European allies and stoked concern among GOP veterans who are otherwise loyal to him. There is also growing mistrust of the administration in sections of the US intelligence community, parts of which are seen by Trump loyalists as a “deep state” stuck in the Cold War past.
As if to troll the administration, the FBI put out a series of tweet won Saturday morning reminding everyone of its investigation into deep-cover Russian operatives in the US, and how its case against them inspired the creators of the FX series “The Americans.”