Trump Ignores Russian Bounties on American Troops

The Administration has done nothing about intelligence reports of a grave escalation from Moscow.

A stunning report in the New York Times from Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz: “Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says.”

American intelligence officials have concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops — amid the peace talks to end the long-running war there, according to officials briefed on the matter.

The United States concluded months ago that the Russian unit, which has been linked to assassination attempts and other covert operations in Europe intended to destabilize the West or take revenge on turncoats, had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

On the one hand, it’s not surprising that Russia sided with the Taliban militants against their arch rival. We, after all, did the same thing after their 1979 invasion.

Then again, we were open enemies at the time, on opposite sides of a Cold War. While we’re past the “Reset” of the early Obama years and now acknowledging that we’re in an adversarial relationship—whether “Great Power Competition,” “gray zone conflict,” “political warfare” or some combination—to brazenly pay people to kill the forces of the other is an act of war that eschews any shade of gray.

Still, that’s not the shocking part:

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said.

Granting that Trump has been cozying up to Putin going back to the campaign and has continued to pretend that there was no Russian interference in the 2016 elections, it’s one thing to ignore the interests of the country for selfish political gain. It’s quite another to ignore the killing of American soldiers under your command.

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Intelligence, National Security, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Teve says:

    I don’t have words for this.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’ve been saying for four years that Putin owns Trump. And people would argue, no, no he just likes authoritarians. (Like that was OK). Putin owns Trump, and Trump is a traitor to this country. Hard to believe, hard to absorb, but absolutely fucking true.

  3. DrDaveT says:

    The caption photo is incorrect in the relative positioning of Trump’s lips and Putin’s lower body.

  4. Scott F. says:

    It’s quite another to ignore the killing of American soldiers under your command.

    But, Trump has taken action since learning of this act of war. He’s pushed to have Putin invited to the G7.

  5. CSK says:

    There is absolutely no mention of this at At HotAir, the comments seem split between pro-Trump and anti-Trump. Since there is no way to spin this to make Trump look good, all the pro-Trumpers can do by way of response is to call the anti-Trumpers names.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s a pity Guarneri got himself exiled. I’d love to hear his pathetic rationalization of this.

  7. Slugger says:

    The seriousness of these allegations is extreme. I have nothing but contempt for Trump, but how solid are these claims? Is there some NSC insider willing to step forward?

  8. PJ says:

    @Scott F.:
    And he withdrew troops from Germany.

    Appeasement. Peace in our time. Etc.

  9. PJ says:


    I don’t have words for this.

    One is enough.


  10. Sleeping Dog says:


    The safe assumption is this was leaked by an intelligence or defense official because Tiny was ignoring it. We’ll likely have rage tweeting, deep-state accusations and fake-news allegations. The House will attempt an investigation, which will go nowhere. When Uncle Joe takes over among his first acts must me the appointment of a select committee to uncover the skeletons of this administration.

  11. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I just checked Trump’s Twitter account, and he hasn’t mentioned a word about it yet. Then again, Fox News appears not to have reported it; at least, I can’t find any mention on their home page.

    Since the story’s exploding all over the place (Jen brought it to our attention yesterday), you’d think Trump would have seen it some place.

    I would dearly love to know what Putin has on Trump.

  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    Putin bailed him out financially. There may be more than that, but Trump has been laundering Russian mob money and it’s kept his bankrupt ’empire’ afloat. That’s why Putin helped get him elected, because he knew he had Trump’s balls in his pocket.

  13. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    I had forgotten that. I can’t imagine why I forgot it. Perhaps because it’s profoundly disturbing to know that Putin bought himself a U.S. president.

  14. Gustopher says:

    Addressing this would require saying that he was wrong about the Russians, and I have never seen Trump admit to being wrong about anything. And that comes before policy, corruption, etc.

    (A question I would like to see in debates going forward is “What’s the biggest political statement you’ve made in the past that you were wrong about?” — try to weed out the Trumpy candidates)

  15. dmichael says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Screw the select committee. Biden needs to have a computer forensic team in place ready to go as soon as noon on inauguration day to sweep up all data and determine what has been deleted. He needs a team to oust or reassign the rats who hadn’t yet left the Trump sinking ship. He needs to inform federal authorities to prevent Trump from leaving the country in an attempt to avoid service of criminal and civil actions. He needs to have a video crew who will document the condition of the White House and VP residence. He needs to “clean house” to remove the shit stain that Trump has left.

  16. dazedandconfused says:

    Putin should give Trump $130,000.00.

    That out of my system, I’m not convinced. When intell services do this kind of stuff false flags abound. I cite the case of Israelis presenting themselves as CIA when they conducted their assassinations of Iranian nuclear engineers as just one example. Everybody does this crap. Everybody. Could have been the Pakis. Could have been the Iranians.

    I view the Russians and the US on the same side of the issue when it comes to radical Islam. The Russians fear that as much as we do. The Russians helped during the “re-set”, we had too many people in there to supply purely by air and the route from Pakistan were anything but secure, so we used a lot of Russian rail. Not saying this is surely wrong, just waiting for more proof.

  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    We and the Russians are not on the same side as regards radical Islam. We are two countries using various radical Muslim groups for our own larger purposes. There is no unity of purpose among radical Muslim groups, they differ on a wide range of issues (Shia vs. Sunni and more). In fact the Syrian civil war has been fought almost entirely by radical Muslim groups happily killing each other, egged on by the US, Russia, Israel, Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia just to start the long list.

    The possible sources of this intel are equally long and include our allies and our enemies.

  18. dazedandconfused says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    We have different views of the Syrian civil war. The al-Assad is a Baathist government, and Syria thereby has a multi-confessional population. There are Christians, Druze, Shia, and a sect that claims some Muslim roots but a serious case can be made isn’t Islam at all: the Alawite. The sufi have a safe place there too, The Saudis support the overturning of that government as part of their long dream of Wahhabitizing Al Sham, the Levant. There are no other religions allowed there. Even Hashemites with documented direct descendancy from Mo had to carve out their own country, Jordan, when the area was partitioned in the early 20th century. We are only on the other side from the Russians because we are the Saudi’s bitch, and the Israeli’s too. The Izzies interest is pure chaos in Syria. They merely want to see it weakened. Saudi and Israeli influence in the US government is broad and strong. In combination hard to resist.

    The neocons have pushed hard to get us to join with the rebellion but both Obama and Trump checked them, for the most part. Each for different reasons. That checking was only possible because us supporting a rebellion all but sure to be dominated by strident Islamists is effin’ nuts and we blew our wad in Iraq.

  19. Teve says:

    Trump will be all “lookit this Deep State Fake News! I told you, these people are liars!”

  20. @Michael Reynolds: He would claim it wasn’t true or just ignore it all together.

    (Or tell us whatever Zerohedge wanted him to believe).

  21. OzarkHillbilly says:

    it’s one thing to ignore the interests of the country for selfish political gain. It’s quite another to ignore the killing of American soldiers under your command.

    No James, with trump they are one and the same thing.

  22. JohnSF says:

    The really shocking part of this is that the Russians should be so incredibly reckless; to return to Cold War modes invites a response in kind.
    Even if confident that Trump will not respond, why risk a post-Trump administrations retaliation?

    Trump’s reaction is disgraceful, but at this point, hardly shocking.
    I wonder if at Helsinki Putin’s private words really were “Oh, and Semion Mogilovich sends his best wishes.”

    What will be interesting to future historians are the interaction of Trump’s appeasement of Russia and the periodic anti-Russia actions ; above all re. Nordstream pipeline which is a Russian sore point that the administration doeskeep poking, oddly enough.
    Is it just institutional inertia? Window dressing?

  23. JohnSF says:

    re. Syria some factions among the Saudis might have been motivated by Wahhabi zealotry.

    But IMHO the main motive for their moves in Syria was trying to undermine the Iranians.
    The Saudi/Wahhabi dyarchy has various dynamics, but shared loathing of Iranian Shia is one common factor.
    And the Israeli interest in Syria at present is also primarily anti-Iranian.

    These situations tend to complexity; a good many IS adherents are very much anti-Saudi, and often anti- Wahhabi, despite both IS and Wahhabi being Salafi.

    And the Ikhwan is still an important factor in Syria, and generally radically Sunni, but with very ambivalent relations with Saudis, Wahhabis, IS, and “legacy al-Qaeda”.

    Then factor in the Turks, themselves with tensions between the Erdogan government and the quiet remnants of the “Attaturkists” in the military.
    Plus the Egyptians.
    Plus the Jordanians.

  24. An Interested Party says:

    It’s quite another to ignore the killing of American soldiers under your command.

    For Trump to do that is not shocking at all…

    The really shocking part of this is that the Russians should be so incredibly reckless; to return to Cold War modes invites a response in kind.

    This shows how little respect the Russians have for our country and they obviously feel like we will not retaliate…of course, with Trump as president, why would the Russians feel any other way…

  25. CSK says:

    You knew this was coming: According to USA Today, Kayleigh McEnany denied that either Trump or Pence was briefed about this matter.

    My credulity is straining.

  26. JohnSF says:

    @An Interested Party:

    “we will not retaliate…with Trump as president, why would the Russians feel any other way”

    True enough.
    But risky even with Trump as president; did they expect it not to leak; could they not foresee the potential blow-back against Trump’s political position?
    And beyond that, do they expect Trump to rule fore ever? Is there ZERO concern about retribution from a post-Trump administration?

    This strikes me as another example of the recklessness bordering on insanity of the Russian government, and it’s substitution of short-term brutality for coherent strategy.

  27. grumpy realist says:

    @CSK: The woman has the brains of a lobotomised slime mould. Either Trump/Pence were briefed or they weren’t. If they weren’t, then I don’t see how this CIA story got created in the first place. This is sort of like saying “oh hey, I discovered that all the plans for our A-bombs have ended up in Russki hands but naaah we’re not going to inform the President of the U.S. about it.”

    And if the CIA did brief Trump/Pence and they just decided to sit on it and not do anything–well, that says something as well, doesn’t it?

    Trump–or his idiot entourage–may think that they can deny, deny, deny and throw the CIA under the bus, but I suspect that the very first question Congress will ask the CIA is “Did you ever inform President Trump of your findings” and when the CIA comes back with proof that they did–well, all hell will blow loose.

  28. CSK says:

    @grumpy realist:
    I find it much more believable that Trump knew about this and refused to do anything about it because of his slavish devotion to Putin.

  29. dazedandconfused says:


    Thanks for the reply. Not disagreeing, I agree with that essentially, but I see undermining Iran in the Levant as necessary to the goal of expanding Wahhabism, not the goal itself. Iran is the only power in the region with both the capability and the will required to throw a serious monkey wrench in that plan. It appears that with Russia’s help and the Syrians who rallied around Assad they have, for the moment, succeeded as well. The Shia of Iran should be our allies. That branch is far more reasonable than what the Saudis practice. AQ and IS types? The takfiris hate Iran even more than they do us.

  30. flat earth luddite says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Showing my age, but what I find profoundly disturbing is not the fact that he’s venal and corrupt, but how cheaply he can be bought.

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Can you go over to Schuler’s place and ask him? He’s not banned there, and we won’t have to suffer through the dithering. Win/win! 😀

  32. Jax says:

    @Michael Reynolds: How did you manage to type Guano’s whole name without getting sent to comment purgatory? Oh….right…system reset! 😉

  33. James Joyner says:

    @Jax: It should have gone to moderation but we check the queue frequently and release most messages.

  34. @Jax: I am pretty sure I released that one.

  35. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Why should anyone be surprised? Trump has already provided irrefutable proof that he trusts Putin more than he trusts our intelligence agencies.

  36. CSK says:

    If you believe Catherine Herridge, the presidential daily briefing did NOT contain this intelligence.

    Which could mean that @SC_Birdflyte: is right. No one trusted Trump enough to tell him this.