BY MARIO ALEXIS PORTELLA · | The latest fiasco to hit the Trump administration, as reported by The New York Times, is the claim that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan for killing coalition forces, including targeting American troops.
The alleged revelations, from American intelligence officials came as the U.S., Taliban militants and the Afghan government are struggling to cut a peace deal to end the 18-year conflict.
In a statement released on Saturday, White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said neither President Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed on the allegations. Trump reaffirmed on Sunday that neither he nor top members of his administration had been briefed on a classified intelligence assessment that found Russians had offered a bounty to those who conducted lethal attacks on U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan, and played down the seriousness of the allegation.
It should be known that U.S. intelligence has already known that the Putin regime had been providing arms to the Taliban insurgents for years. In March 2017, then-U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis admitted that Moscow was “sending weapons” to the Taliban, though he did not provide specifics or evidence to support such claims.
This March the U.S. conducted a drone airstrike against the Taliban in Afghanistan after President Trump boasted he secured peace with the group—military officials had confirmed the airstrike was to interrupt a planned attack on a checkpoint run by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.
Can we rely on the information the U.S. Government has made public?
Putting aside that the eighteen-year-old war has seen over 2,400 American soldiers have been killed and approximately 20,320 wounded, not to mention the trillions of dollars spent, as I previously wrote, American officials routinely issue inflated assessments of progress that contradict what is actually happening in Afghanistan. This would in the very least question the reality of achieving a truce with the Islamic militants.
- The American military says the Afghan government effectively “controls or influences” 56% of the country. But that assessment relies on statistical sleight of hand. In many districts, the Afghan government controls only the district headquarters and military barracks, while the Taliban control the rest: 61%.
- On paper, Afghan security forces outnumber the Taliban by 10 to 1, or even more. But some Afghan officials estimate that a third of their soldiers and police officers are “ghosts” who have left or deserted without being removed from payrolls. Many others are poorly trained and unqualified.
- U.S. officials claim that at least the coalition has improved Afghan living standards. In 2002, they reported that 1,600 Afghan mothers died for every 100,000 live births—a rate comparable to Europe during the Middle Ages—by 2010, the U.S. Agency for International Development said the rate had improved drastically, falling to 327. However, the British and Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group cited a study indicating that 1,575 women died out of 100,000 births in 2010. Other estimates put the figure at 885 to 1,600 of 100,000—meaning that nearly one in a hundred Afghan women will die giving birth.
What tends to be disturbing is that while the White House has refuted that the President was aware of the Russian covert operation, it did not deny that Russia paid the Taliban terrorists to target American soldiers.
Kayleigh McEnany said: “This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of The New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter.”
Both Democrats and Republicans are demanding immediate answers from the Trump administration on this serious allegation. House Representative Liz Cheney, (R., Wyo.), in a tweet said if the reports were true, the White House must answer: “Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the PDD?” referring to the president’s daily intelligence brief. She added: “What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”
Until the New York Times, which has a history of manipulating facts, if not falsifying them, provides the names of the whistleblowers, their report tends to be another bash on Donald Trump to keep him from being reelected. This does not mean that the Russian clandestine operation is not true—I tend to believe that it is. Nevertheless, the burden of proof is on the Times to provide some names and for the Trump administration to explain how, if so, how this intelligence report was brushed aside.
Mario Alexis Portella is a priest of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore and Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Florence, Italy. He has a doctorate in canon law and civil law from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome; he also holds a M. A. in Medieval History from Fordham University, as well as a B.A. in Government & Politics from St. John’s University. He is also author of Islam: Religion of Peace – The Violation of Natural Rights and Western Cover-Up.