US Department of Defense to Assess Russian Malign Activity in Afghanistan

US Department of Defense to Assess Russian Malign Activity in Afghanistan

Disagreement among U.S. intelligence agencies toward the issue of Russian linking in a series of U.S. troops killing happened in the last year in Afghanistan does not allow U.S. Commander-in-Chief, President Trump, to order appropriate measures. So, the Department of Defense chooses a separate approach.

“The Department of Defense continues to evaluate intelligence that Russian GRU operatives were engaged in malign activity against the United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan. To date, DOD has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports. Regardless, we always take the safety and security of our forces in Afghanistan — and around the world — most seriously and therefore continuously adopt measures to prevent harm from potential threats.”

Chief Pentagon Spokesman, Jonathan Hoffman

On Monday 29 June 2020, in the White House press briefing, Press Secretary Kayleigh Mc Enany clarified that” the U.S. receives thousands of reports a day on intelligence, and they are subject to strict scrutiny”.

“While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, NSA, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on alleged Russia — Russian bounty intelligence”, Press Secretary Kayleigh Mc Enany added.

So far, she said, President Trump would not have been briefed on the assertions because the information “would not be elevated to the president until it was verified.” Interestingly, Fox News reports that a White House official had told that President Trump would have been briefed on the issue someday “after the N.Y. Times reported on unverified intelligence.”

Last week, the New York Times affirmed that the Russian military had proposed rewards to Taliban supporters to murder U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The article highlighted that in the year 2019 alone, the Taliban’s attack killed 20 Americans in Afghanistan. However, the media did not clarify how many attacks against U.S. targets occurred as a consequence of Russian intelligence funded’ operations.

According to The New York Times, anonymous had voiced that some “Islamist militants” or “criminal elements” received payments to striking U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan. The story has shaken the U.S. Government; so far, the White House has negated knowing something about the Russian intelligence intrusive activity in the Afghan theater.

President Trump and Russia relation has always been a controversial topic since Trump’s first presidential campaign and fueled some critical concerns during his presidency. The last major criticism arises from President Trump’s unilateral decision to invite Russia to the next fall G7 Summit. A former national security adviser, John Bolton, criticizes President Trump’s latest approach toward the Russian-Taliban affair, seemingly a “don’t ask – don’t tell” scheme.

The White House Press Secretary also eluded questions related to the inappropriateness of the Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, call to Senator McConnell and Congressman Hoyer to arrange a briefing with eight members from the committees of jurisdiction about the alleged Russian covert actions against U.S. troops, if sources’ unreliability had stopped a previous brief to President Trump.

An A.P. source, reports that Rep. Michael McCaul, a ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who joined the briefing held headed by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, said that members of Congress knew that there was an ongoing evaluation to assess the reports’ exactness.

On CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed the briefing, pointing out that it does not supplant White House’s requirement to inform the Congress of the United States. She also said, “this is as serious as it gets” and speculated that President Trump wasn’t briefed “because they know it makes him very unhappy, and all roads for him, as you know, lead to Putin. And would he tell Putin what they knew?”

The White House Press Secretary Kayleigh Mc Enany refused to comment on whether President Trump was upset when he knew that the intelligence had been reportedly shared with the U.K. government but not with him. Besides, the White House declined to reply to how President Trump could react should charges of clandestine activities against U.S. troops funded by Russian intelligence be confirmed. Primarily, questions focused on the possibility of withdrawing Vladimir Putin’s invite to join the G7+1 next fall.

About President Trump’s attitude toward Russia, Press Secretary recalled that he “has been extremely strong on Russia: imposing sanctions on hundreds of Russian individuals, expelling dozens of diplomats, closing two Russian consulates, withdrawing from the INF Treaty, and several other actions.”

In conclusion, Press Secretary displayed her disagreement with the New York Times, saying that it’s time for them “to step back and ask themselves why they’ve been wrong — so wrong, so often.” She added that The New York Times “falsely claimed Paul Manafort asked for polling data to be passed along to Oleg Deripaska before having to issue a correction.

In June 2017, she added, the New York Times misleadingly whispered that 17 intel agencies had agreed on Russian intrusion, before a rectification that it was only four agencies. Also, the Press Secretary quotes incidents that happened in February 2017, and in March 2019, the New York Times would have published some misleading stories.

According to White House Press Secretary, the newspaper would have sustained that Trump campaigners and Russia made a deal upon the “quid of help in the campaign against Hillary…for the quo of a new pro-Russian foreign policy.” That’s what we call the “Russia hoax,” which was investigated for three years with taxpayer dollars before ultimately getting an exoneration in the Mueller report, she said.

White House Press Secretary ended the press briefing saying that “the failed Russia reporting of the New York Times” was unforgivable. She affirmed that “it’s time that the New York Times, and also the Washington Post, hand back their Pulitzers.”

The discussed Russian engagement in Afghanistan in the eve of the US-Taliban Peace Agreement, which should allow the creation of an autonomous national government and the disengagement of U.S. troops after about two decades, received harsh replies both from the assumed parties involved and from Trump’s domestic opposition.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov expressed his regret for “the biggest, respectful and high-class international media organizations have not been above publishing absolute hoaxes in recent years.” Likewise, a Taliban spokesman said the activists “strongly reject this allegation” and aren’t “indebted to the beneficence of any intelligence organ or foreign country.”

U.S. Democrat presidential nominee Joe Biden blamed Trump for “his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself” in favor of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

President Trump replied to Biden’s allegations twitting that “nobody’s been tougher” on Russia than his administration. However, the previous Obama administration excluded Russia from the G8 after the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine, a decision that President Trump would cancel.

The alleged relationship between the Russian intelligence and the Taliban poses a problematic dilemma during president Trump political campaign. If it is true, it would crash with Trump’s America First main slogan and he will lose the Americanist electoral support.

The official position of the White House apparently shields the president from taking a decision; however, it also shows the weakness of Intelligence agencies during Trump’s presidency, with his notorious dislike toward independent advisors.

If the case won’t be settled before the next G7 organization, President Trump will also lose his last chance to bring Russia to the decision makers’ table, where a new geopolitical approach to Chinese political and economic rising power could be decided.

George Costa

George Costa is a reporter specialized in defence and security systems. He covers international defence and security issues, such as international conflicts, WMD proliferation, and cybersecurity, as well as news reporting on developments in the global defence community.