It was the New York Times that ignited the spark of controversy. In its Friday edition, the reference newspaper of the Big Apple published information more than explosive. American intelligence would have acquired the conviction that Russia had discreetly offered bonuses to fighters close to the Taliban for killing American or NATO soldiers in Afghanistan. The news had the effect of a diplomatic bomb and caused chain reactions.
What does the New York Times say?
The news is not recent, it even dates back several months. At the time, the Afghan Islamist rebels are in full negotiations with Washington to put an end to the longest war of the United States, according to the daily. An agreement between the Americans and the Taliban was even signed on February 29, which provides for a complete gradual withdrawal of American forces and peace negotiations between the insurgents and the government in Kabul.
In this relatively hot environment, a Russian military intelligence unit is said to have distributed money to Islamist fighters or armed criminals close to the Taliban, adds the New York Times, without being able to say how many of the 20 Americans died in combat. in Afghanistan in 2019 were linked to this operation.
Also according to the newspaper, which quotes anonymous officials, President Donald Trump was informed and his national security advisers discussed the problem at a meeting in late March. Washington more recently shared its discovery with the United Kingdom, whose soldiers were also allegedly targeted. Several options have been submitted to the White House, from official diplomatic protest to Moscow to sanctions or other reprisals, but no decision has been made at this stage. US and Afghan officials have spoken of Russian support for the Taliban in the past, but such an operation would be a real escalation.
Denial of Moscow and the Taliban
"These unfounded and anonymous accusations that Moscow is behind the deaths of American soldiers in Afghanistan have already resulted in direct threats to the lives of employees of Russian embassies in Washington and London," the Russian Embassy in the United States tweeted.
In another message, the embassy called on the New York Times to "stop fabricating false information" and asked the US authorities to "take effective measures" to keep its employees safe. The Russians also added that "it has been known for a long time in Afghanistan that members of the American intelligence community are involved in drug trafficking, cash payments to activists for passing convoys , bribes from contracts for the implementation of various projects paid for by the taxpayer of the United States ”. The Russian shepherd's answer in a way.
The Taliban, who have faced Afghan power and foreign troops since being ousted from power in 2001 by an international coalition led by the United States, have also vigorously denied these claims by the American daily. "The holy war waged for 19 years by the Islamic Emirate (name of the Afghan state under the Taliban regime, from 1996 to 2001, editor's note) owes nothing to the benefits of any intelligence service or foreign country," say they in a statement issued in Kabul. Afghan insurgents also reject previous US accusations of arms supplies from Russia.
"The Islamic Emirate used weapons, installations and tools (…) already present in Afghanistan or spoils of war recovered from the enemy during clashes," assures the group, which recalls that homemade explosive devices are responsible of the majority of American casualties in Afghanistan. The Taliban also point out that it remains attached to the agreement signed on February 29 in Doha with Washington, which notably provides that they will stop attacking foreign troops in exchange for their gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan before the spring. 2021. In this complex context, the Taliban have largely stopped attacking foreign troops, but continue their operations against the Afghan forces, to which Washington continues to help by intervening on the ground.
Donald Trump also denies being made aware
Donald Trump assured Sunday, without convincing his critics, not to have been "briefed" on possible bonuses paid by Moscow to insurgents for killing Western soldiers in Afghanistan, contrary to press reports. "Nobody briefed me, or briefed vice president Mike Pence or chief of staff Mark Meadows on the alleged attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by the Russians," assured the American president in a tweet. morning.
"Everyone denies it and there have not been many attacks against us," he added, attacking "bogus media" for the umpteenth time. These denials have not put an end to the controversy across the Atlantic as the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal have also confirmed the information from the New York Times.
Donald Trump attacked in the United States
Whether President Trump "was briefed or not, his administration knew," noted Democrat Congress chief Nancy Pelosi on ABC News. If the republican billionaire does not lie, this implies that his administration has chosen not to inform him and this shows that she "is anxious not to talk about Russia" with him, said his main opponent in the American parliament.
For her, "the president wants to ignore all the allegations against Russia". He "licks the boots" of Vladimir Poutine "in all the possible ways", she still assené by reproaching him for being interested today more in its image than in digging the bottom of the business. Former National Security Advisor John Bolton, in open conflict with Donald Trump to whom he has just dedicated a book on vitriol, abounded in an interview with CNN.
"The fact that the president feels compelled to tweet about these articles shows that his priority is not the security of our forces but not to appear indifferent," said the Republican hawk who left the White House. in September. For John Bolton, the president seeks to clear himself: "He says nobody kept me posted, so you can't blame me "
The subject is indeed sensitive for Donald Trump who, less than five months from the presidential election, likes to denounce the supposed "weakness" of his democratic rival Joe Biden, the former vice-president of Barack Obama. The American president has summoned the New York Times to reveal his anonymous source this Sunday as a threat.