National Security & Defense

Trump Dismisses Russian Support for Taliban, Citing U.S. Tactics during Cold War

President Donald Trump speaks during a coronavirus task force news briefing at the White House., July 22, 2020. (Leah Millis/Reuters)

President Trump said Tuesday that he has never discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin the intelligence indicating that Russia paid Taliban fighters to kill U.S. troops despite several phone calls between the two heads of state since the intelligence was made known.

“I have never discussed it with him,” Trump said in an interview with “Axios on HBO.”

Asked why he did not confront Putin over the alarming revelation, Trump responded, “That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that’s an issue that many people said was fake news.”

Trump also cited previous U.S. tactics during the Cold War, when the U.S. provided support to Afghan soldiers fighting the Soviet Union, in an effort to downplay the Kremlin’s intervention in Afghanistan.

“Well we supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia too. You know, when they were fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan,” Trump said. “I’m just saying we did that too.”

Trump has reportedly spoken to Putin at least eight times, including on Thursday, since reports broke last month that U.S. intelligence found that at least one American soldier, as well as a number of Afghan civilians, died as a result of secret bounty payments that Russia paid to Taliban militants in Afghanistan to target American forces.

Intelligence about the alleged bounty offerings by Russia to Taliban fighters was reportedly included in the president’s daily written intelligence briefing in February, but the White House claims Trump was not verbally briefed on the matter until the New York Times’s June 26 report on the issue. The Times reported that some bounties as high as $100,000 were paid for each U.S. or allied troop killed.

Several American service-members died as a result of monetary rewards that a Russian military intelligence unit offered to terrorist militants to target U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan, the Washington Post said in a similar report.

The intelligence community is, however, split over the reliability of the reports on Russian bounty payments. The National Security Agency strongly dissented from the assessment by the CIA and other intelligence agencies alleging the bounty scheme.

The U.S. has long accused Russia of supporting the Taliban with weapons and other aid but has never accused Moscow of soliciting Taliban members with bounties to kill U.S. forces and allies. The Kremlin and Taliban have both denied the reports.

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