The news that Russia was paying Taliban militia a bounty to kill American soldiers was shocking. The idea that Donald Trump had known about it for a matter of months and not only failed to take action, but pressured the G7 to readmit Russia was even more so. But since that initial story broke, the date of Trump’s knowledge keeps moving back and the extent of Trump’s actions in support of Vladimir Putin keeps getting underlined. Trump wasn’t just briefed in February, he was given a personal briefing by John Bolton over a year ago. Even with that knowledge, Trump has repeatedly supported Russia and made an unprecedented series of private, unrecorded calls to Putin—at least five just in the last few months.
But now it seems that even Trump’s briefing in 2019 was very late in the game. Just Security is reporting that Pentagon officials became aware of Russian efforts to fund the Taliban two years earlier, in 2017. This transfer of funds helped not just to fund attacks on individual U.S. troops, but to disrupt attempts to secure a lasting peace agreement. Through it all, Trump took no action. Actually, that’s not true—through it all, Trump insisted that the Pentagon share information with the people who were behind the murder of U.S. troops. And that action gave Putin and the Kremlin a very good picture of Trump: A weak man who was in their pocket.
Since the story of the Russian bounties first broke in The New York Times at the end of June, the White House has been passing it off as “another Russian hoax.” Considering that the nation is currently in the midst of an unnecessary disaster that is taking the equivalent of a 9/11 in lives every three days, the media has also given the story a lot less attention than it might have otherwise received.
Inconveniently for Trump, the White House, and Republicans who have been eager to either dismiss or ignore this story, the Just Security report comes with sources. Named sources, speaking on the record. That includes former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Carpenter, who described how Trump’s failure to respond to Russia’s interference in Afghanistan was a signal to Putin that “he could press further.” Trump failed to offer any resistance to Kremlin efforts, so Russia never had any reason to stop conducting a proxy war. For Russia, the cost was minimal—a few million paid to fighters they didn’t have to train or support—and the benefits were enormous. By keeping Afghanistan at a low boil, thousands of United States forces, and many billions of dollars, were trapped in a situation that was under Putin’s control.
Also on the record is former senior CIA official Marc Polymeropoulos, who described the “constant push” from the White House to cooperate with Russia and provide intelligence to the Kremlin even as a long line of officials from the State Department and Pentagon were testifying to Russia providing money and arms to the Taliban. As Polymeropoulos makes clear, this intelligence-sharing was entirely “one sided.” The United States was giving something of value to Russia, but getting nothing in return either in the form of intelligence or in a slowing of Russia’s efforts to disrupt U.S. operations. Those statements were echoed by another senior CIA officer who complained of being pressured to provide information to Moscow even in the face of overwhelming evidence of Russian support for the Taliban.
One thing that made all this especially frustrating to these men is that a large amount of the information they were being forced to send was intelligence aimed at counterterrorism. But at the same time, officials across U.S. intelligence and the military were testifying that Russia was supporting the terrorists. It was as if Trump was forcing the FBI to send the Mafia everything that was known about their activities.
Polymeropoulos also made it clear that this pressure from the White House to send counterterrorism information to Russia began very early, during the very brief tenure of National Security Advisor Micheal Flynn. That would be the same Michael Flynn who spent the transition period making calls to the Russian ambassador. Calls that he later lied about to the FBI.
The article from Just Security, well laid out and thoroughly researched by co-founder Ryan Goodman, makes it clear that Russia is not only a state sponsor of terrorism, but that the current level of support for the Taliban, including the bounty program, is the result of the way that Trump has repeatedly failed to challenge any action by Putin. Russia has tested the United States over and over since Trump took power, and at every turn, Trump hasn’t just failed to push back—he’s offered more gifts to Putin.
Whatever the reason for this weakness, the results are obvious: American and allied troops have been killed, negotiations to reach an agreement to remove the remaining U.S. forces have been disrupted, and the U.S. military has remained bogged down in a costly, unwinnable situation. And Vladimir Putin is extremely happy.