Us troops in Afghanistan (La Presse)

Not Fit for Office: Taliban Bounty-Gate Could Seal Trump’s Demise

Russia has been paying the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, according to an explosive new report from the New York Times. President Donald Trump was reportedly informed of the situation – but did not act.

Report: Russian Agents Paid the Taliban Bounties to Kill US and NATO Troops in Afghanistan

The New York Times, citing insiders, reported that Russian GRU agents paid Taliban fighters bounties for killing U.S. and NATO soldiers stationed Afghanistan. The report also states that Trump was made aware of the bounties during one of his daily security briefings in February. Trump has denied having been briefed on the issue, however.

On Tuesday, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany abandoned her previous attempts to discredit the intelligence report. Instead, McEnany attacked the New York Times for its report and blasted the intelligence officials who leaked the information to the newspaper. Trump, as well as McEnamy, are pushing the narrative that the president had not been briefed as the intelligence was never confirmed. They are also emphasizing that to this day, no consent among the intelligence agencies was present.

Pelosi Calls Out Trump’s ‘Inexplicable’ Behavior Toward Russia

The Democrats, meanwhile, have demanded clarification and in particular seek to know whether Trump was indeed briefed – and if so, when. Speaker Pelosi spoke of “inexplicable behaviour by President Trump towards Russia.” Former Vice President and designated Trump challenger Joe Biden said that if the president were informed and had not acted, it would be a breach of duty. Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, said measures need to be taken to discourage Russia from “malicious activity.”

However, the bombshell is more than a partisan issue as Republicans have also demanded an investigation into the allegations. Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton went even further and stated that if the allegations against Russia were accurate, it would be a “direct attack on Americans” which required a “serious answer.”

What is for certain, however, is that if Trump knowingly ignored or overlooked the threat to American troops, it will further reduce his chances of re-election in early November.

Trump Reacts by Dismissing Report as a ‘Hoax’

What makes the situation even dicier is the fact that Trump has been perceived as too weak on Putin since he moved into the Oval Office in 2017 and despite Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections.

On Wednesday, Trump tweeted about the reports and called it a hoax. The president later re-upped his claim later on T.V. “From what I hear, and I hear it pretty good, the intelligence people — many of them — did not believe it happened at all,” the president claimed to Fox Business. “I think it is a hoax. I think it is a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.”

Moreover, when asked about a response to Russia if the intelligence was, in fact, accurate, Trump objected and suggested Russia’s denials mattered. “If it did happen, the Russians would hear about it, and anybody else would hear about it that was involved,” he said.

Trusting Putin

The latter, of course, is of significance as it marks the second time that the U.S. president would take Putin’s word over us intelligence agencies. In 2018, during the Helsinki summit, Trump called Putin’s denial of having interfered in the U.S. election as “extremely strong and powerful”. He trusted Putin.

Besides the domestic trouble the story is already stirring up, it is also relevant from a foreign policy perspective. The USA and the Taliban have engaged in a peace process in the Hindu Kush. A spokesman for the terrorists said Tuesday that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke on Monday in a video conference with the head of the Taliban political office, Mullah Baradar, about the implementation of the February peace agreement. The main issue is the withdrawal of US-led troops in return for security guarantees from the Taliban. Pompeo warned the Taliban of attacks. In a phone call to Mullah Baradar on Tuesday, Pompeo said his ministry said it expected the Islamists to keep their promises. “That includes not attacking Americans,” said Pompeo.

If the Reports are True the Pentagon Can’t Sit Idly By

Moreover, if the reports were indeed confirmed, the situation in Afghanistan could change abruptly. A sudden withdrawal of remaining U.S. troops as planned would send the wrong signal. The Pentagon cannot retreat after having been attacked. Moscow officially welcomed the planned withdrawal. However, prolonged presents of US soldiers could actually benefit Russia. The Taliban are not a homogeneous force; any deal with the terrorists will sooner or later fail. With the withdrawal of the Americans and the vacuum created, a new civil war could flare up quickly, which would endanger the security of the neighboring Central Asian republics. Russia maintains open borders with these, which is why any new risk for Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also becomes a problem for Moscow.

What if it’s All True?

With information still surfacing, certainty is scarce at this point. And yet, several questions arise. For instance, has the Trump administration fulfilled its responsibility to US troops? Has the information been kept secret, even to Congress and if so, why? And if confirmed that US soldiers have been killed in exchange for Russian money, how will the White House react?

Answers ought to be expected in the upcoming days, though not by the president. His playbook contains two strategies: lie and deny. This time, however, his approach could turn out to be insufficient for Republicans in Congress. While these have shown a surreal degree of ill-advised loyalty for Trump, dead US serviceman either due to the president’s inaction or his affinity for Putin would exceed any conceivable defense even from within Trump’s own party.