Why would the Russian government think it could get away with paying bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers? One answer to that question may be the extraordinary response that Moscow received when the Trump administration learned of a precursor to the bounty operation. From mid-2017 and into 2018, Pentagon officials became increasingly confident in intelligence reports that the Kremlin was arming the Taliban, which posed a significant threat to American and coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan.
President Trump’s actions in the face of the Russia-Taliban arms program likely signaled a weak US resolve in the eyes of Putin and Russian military intelligence.
Three dimensions of Trump’s response are described in detail in this article, based on interviews with several former Trump administration officials who spoke to Just Security on the record.
First, President Trump decided not to confront Putin about supplying arms to the terrorist group. Second, during the very times in which U.S. military officials publicly raised concerns about the program’s threat to US forces, Trump undercut them. He embraced Putin, overtly and repeatedly, including at the historic summit in Helsinki. Third, behind the scenes, Trump directed the CIA to share intelligence information on counterterrorism with the Kremlin despite no discernible reward, former intelligence officials who served in the Trump administration told Just Security.
The failure to push back on the weapons program signaled to Putin that he could press further, said Michael Carpenter, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense with responsibility for Russia in the Obama administration. “When Western powers fail to push back, the Kremlin keeps prodding and probing — until it meets resistance, or until the costs for President Putin and his regime exceed the perceived benefits,” Carpenter wrote in Just Security on Friday.
What we now know is that President Trump not only failed to push back against Russia’s arming the terrorist group. That extraordinary act of omission was coupled with the president’s effort to push the CIA to cooperate with Russia by providing U.S. intelligence to the Kremlin on counterterrorism operations despite getting nothing in return, according to former officials.
On Sept. 1, 2018, Gen. Nicholson told the Voice of America, “We know that Russia is attempting to undercut our military gains and years of military progress in Afghanistan, and make partners question Afghanistan’s stability.” A few days later, he steps down, as scheduled, after serving in the position for over two years. Mattis resigns that December over sharp policy differences with the president.
At the same time that senior US military officials were publicly expressing concerns that Russia was arming the Taliban’s terrorist activities that threatened U.S. personnel, President Trump was pushing the CIA to share counterterrorism intelligence information with the Kremlin.
In the first weeks of the administration, National Security Advisor Michael Flynn tried to push the Defense Department to engage in cooperation with Russia, but the Pentagon and Centcom opposed his efforts, the Daily Beast’s Spencer Ackerman reported. He was not the first to consider such an idea. Secretary of State John Kerry floated the concept of cooperation with Russia against terrorist groups in Syrian during the final year of the Obama administration, but was rejected by Defense Secretary Ash Carter and other parts of the administration. Like Kerry, Flynn ran into a roadblock: a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act strictly prohibits “bilateral military-to-military cooperation” between the United States and Russia, unless the Secretary of Defense issues a waiver and notifies Congress. Mattis reportedly refused to issue a waiver.
But there’s no analogous statute barring cooperation by the CIA.
That’s where the White House succeeded in pushing the CIA to cooperate with Russia despite analysts determining the Kremlin would provide nothing in return, two former CIA officials who served in the Trump administration told me.
“There was a consistent push for CT cooperation with Moscow, coming from the White House, despite near universal belief within the IC that this effort would be one sided and end up being a waste of time and energy,” said Marc Polymeropoulos, who retired in mid-2019 from the Senior Intelligence Service at the CIA.
Douglas London, a CIA Senior Operations Officer who retired at the end of 2018, told me that “despite increasing reflections of Russian material support to the Taliban raised publicly by Defense Secretary James Mattis in 2017 and throughout 2018 by General John Nicholson, President Trump pressured CIA to invest time and resources increasing counterterrorist cooperation with Russia.”
Polymeropoulos who was personally involved in making a trip to Moscow in late 2017 to advance the cooperation policy told me of a similar conclusion to the effort. “As we anticipated, however, it was a sisyphean task. We ended up only giving information, and not receiving anything worthwhile. I cannot think of anything of value that the Russians provided us, that saved any US lives, or was worth even the time it took to pick up the phone to set up the meetings.”
“It was always the same line from downtown, even when failure was so evident and so obvious–keep engaging on CT.” Polymeropoulos said. “This myth that Russians could be a good CT partner—that former National Security Advisor Flynn first perpetuated and then became the cornerstone of this farcical engagement strategy–was by 2019 met with near total derision and eye rolling in the IC.”
“The direction [from President Trump] came despite assessments that Russia was not being forthcoming,” London said. “Failing to reciprocate U.S. willingness and share information on what ostensibly represented threats from common adversaries such as al-Qa’ida and ISIS, Russian counterparts used counterterrorism engagements to further counterintelligence.”
More at the link above. Just who is tRump working for? What does Putin have over tRump? Is it not clear by now that tRump is a national security risk? Hugs