(CNN) – Russian intelligence officers for the military intelligence GRU recently offered money to Taliban militants in Afghanistan as rewards if they killed US or UK troops there, a European intelligence official told CNN.
The official was unclear as to the precise Russian motivation, but said the incentives had, in their assessment, led to coalition casualties. The official did not specify as to the date of the casualties, their number or nationality, or whether these were fatalities or injuries. "This callous approach by the GRU is startling and reprehensible. Their motivation is bewildering," the official said.
This story was first reported by the New York Times.
US intelligence concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence offered the bounties, amid peace talks, the New York Times reported Friday. Citing officials briefed on the matter, the Times reported that President Donald Trump was briefed on the intelligence findings and that the White House's National Security Council held a meeting about it in late March.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement Saturday that the President and Vice President Mike Pence were not briefed "on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence." McEnany said her statement "does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story," which said Trump had been briefed. McEnany did not deny the validity of the reported US intelligence that a Russian intelligence unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to carry out attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan (CNN)
Russia denies the story in its entirety. That’s to be expected. The Washington Post, Wall sStreet Journal, CNN and Sky News back up the NYT reporting through their sources. The White House doesn’t deny the intelligence reporting, but denies Trump was in the loop. McEnany’s insistence that Trump is clueless about this is either a damning indictment of the Trump administration or a damned lie. Either way, it’s not good. At any rate, it does appear this is another serious leak of classified information within the White House. That’s also not good.
So was Trump kept in the dark by his NSC? Did he just refuse to believe the IC reporting? Or did he not know whether to shit or go blind? Did he decide to keep this out of the public eye and quietly confront Putin about this episode in the continuing shadow war. That would be a reasonable response. Totally unsatisfying to me, our military and most of the American public, but reasonable from a realpolitik point of view.
Russia’s alleged action is not near as heinous as it may sound. Remember, we supported and supplied the Mujahideen with weapons to kill Soviet soldiers while they were in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan. It does show that Russia is not our friend and Putin is not Trump’s friend. It doesn’t mean we have to go to war with each other, but we should realize our relationship is not akin to a herd of glitter fartin’ unicorns prancing across the rainbow bridge.