Petraeus on Russian bounties in Afghanistan: ‘We were looking for this kind of activity’

Petraeus on Russian bounties in Afghanistan: 'We were looking for this kind of activity'

By
The World staff

Producer
Joyce Hackel

Player utilities

download

Listen to the story.

US troops assess the damage to an armored vehicle of NATO-led military coalition after a suicide attack in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, Aug. 2, 2017. 

Credit:

Ahmad Nadeem/Reuters

Share

The New York Times reported Friday that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to kill American soldiers and other coalition forces in Afghanistan. The report asserts that US President Donald Trump was made aware of the intelligence finding in late March. 

Top of The World: Trump denies knowledge of Russian bounties in Afghanistan; pandemic death toll reaches half a million; attack in Karachi

Trump denied that he had been made aware of the situation, saying the US intelligence community told him they didn’t brief him on the allegations because US intelligence agents didn’t find the reports credible. Trump also referred to the story as “Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax,” and to The New York Times as “fake news.” 

The World reached out to Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen, who denied the reports. “I refute this report. It is not true,” Shaheen said. “It is only to create confusion and to derail the peace process.” Russia also denied the allegation; the embassy tweeted that The Times had invented “fake stories” to blame Russians.  

David Petraeus, retired US Army general and former CIA chief, says he wasn’t surprised by the reports of Russian bounties for coalition forces.

“We were looking for this kind of activity, frankly, from Russia also, by the way, from Iran and from some other countries in the region, other entities,” Petraeus told The World. “We looked for any support that the Russians might be providing to not just the Taliban, but perhaps some of the other extremist insurgence organizations. But certainly, according to the various news sources that clearly have been briefed on this by folks inside the community, it appears that this certainly took place during 2019.”

Related: Trump escalates attacks on International Criminal Court over Afghanistan investigation

Petraeus spoke with The World’s Marco Werman about the report. 

Marco Werman: So, based on what you’ve read and heard so far, do you believe the reports of the Russian bounties are true?

Gen. David Petraeus: The level of specificity, the confirmation level of various legitimate, respected news organizations all suggests that this did transpire. There’s quite a bit of detail about the cache of money that was captured in a raid and then followed up with information during interrogations of individuals that were detained during those operations. And indeed, it appears, apparently, that there was at least one American soldier for whom this bounty was paid out. Keep in mind that we are many months after an agreement between the US and Taliban representatives back in February. Since then, reportedly, there have been no Taliban attacks on US positions. So, we’re really looking back at something that took place rather than something that has been taking place recently. That doesn’t mean that it is not absolutely outrageous, unacceptable, reprehensible. And clearly, again, if founded, if the degree of confidence is sufficient, clearly we should have conveyed to the Russians how outrageous and unacceptable this is.

Related: Amb Lute on Afghanistan: The US is ‘taking a very hard look at itself’ 

Intelligence officials told the AP that President Trump was briefed on the bounty matter earlier this year. But Trump is now trying to swat those allegations aside, tweeting last night that the intelligence community told him he was not briefed about these allegations because intelligence officials did not find the reports credible. What do you make of that?

Well, it’s a back and forth. Who knows? And, you know, you can parse words and so forth. [It’s] very difficult to know whether this is in the presidential daily briefing or in one of the actual sessions that was held with the National Security Council or with the president.

Typically, Gen. Petraeus, how does this work? If intelligence of this sort is gathered in the field, how does it move up the chain of command? And at what point is it decided that it should reach the president’s ear?

There is a team that’s literally working all the time on what will be in the next presidential daily briefing. They put it together overnight. It is eventually delivered from the CIA headquarters, where it’s still put together, to the office of the director of national intelligence. The assessments are all locked down because this is from the entire community. And you could have signals intelligence, you could have other forms of intelligence, in addition to what it is that the CIA has gathered in the field.

Related: What can the US learn from the conflicts in Syria and Afghanistan? 

If this is true and the Russians were offering bounties for the lives of US troops, how will Washington respond to this?

One would hope that perhaps there already had been a response, but if not, then clearly there are various options that can be employed. Everything from a diplomatic outreach to them about how unacceptable this is, how reprehensible. And then on up the ladder, whether it’s clandestine operations, covert action, and not just in Afghanistan, although certainly if this were discovered there, there should be some pretty substantial targeting against those who were engaged in it. But, of course, there are Russian forces operating in southeastern Ukraine. There are forces in Syria, there are proxies in various other places around the world where, if necessary, something further could be pursued.

Related: After a deadly Syrian battle, evidence of Russian losses was obscured

If there was already a response, what would it have been?

Very difficult to speculate. One would think that there would be a denial, but perhaps also some kind of tacit, “Well, this never would have taken place, but, of course, had it taken place, that would be unacceptable. We understand that and it won’t happen again.” There is some speculation that this is a bit of a payback for what you may recall taking place a few years ago in northeastern Syria, where some Russian proxies, essentially the Wagner group — this is a security contract group with some Syrian forces — crossed in a very menacing formation with some very substantial weapons and so forth, armored vehicles, crossed into what was accepted as the Syrian Democratic Forces zone where the US was supporting them. And there were warnings given. When those forces did not turn around, the US hammered them with precision air attacks and so forth. Again, it’s possible that this is some kind of payback for that, except that, again, that was a violation of what was understood to be respective spheres within Syria.

Related: Is the US ready for the rising tide of mercenaries?  

General, what should US troops on the ground make of all this? What is the message it’s sending to the boots on the ground?

Clearly there’s always a desire and a need to know that those above you, if you will, have your back. And that will be among the factors, I’m sure, as this is evaluated further and as additional actions are taken.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Trump denies knowledge of Russian bounties in Afghanistan; pandemic death toll reaches half a million; attack in Karachi

Trump denies knowledge of Russian bounties in Afghanistan; pandemic death toll reaches half a million; attack in Karachi

By
The World staff

US President Donald Trump delivers remarks to US troops during an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, Nov. 28, 2019.

Credit:

Tom Brenner/Reuters

Share

Top of The World — our morning news round up written by editors at The World. Subscribe here.

Several US service members are believed to have been killed as a result of bounties offered by a Russian military intelligence unit to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan, The Washington Post reports. Last week, The New York Times broke the story that US intelligence officials had concluded Russia was secretly offering bounties to kill US and NATO coalition forces in the country, possibly to destabilize ongoing peace talks or as revenge for the death of Russian mercenaries in Syria in 2018, though motivations remain unclear. 

The Taliban rejected the allegations, and Russia denounced the report, essentially calling it fake news. US President Donald Trump echoed the Kremlin’s line, accusing The New York Times of a possible “fabricated Russia Hoax.” According to The Times, special forces and intelligence officers alerted superiors as early as January of the suspected Russian plot, and Trump had been briefed on this intelligence in late March, but the White House failed to take decisive action. The president denied that he was alerted to Russia’s efforts to pay bounties, adding that intelligence officials had not found the report credible and therefore had not briefed him. Trump then claimed on Twitter, “Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration,” and proceeded with an ad hominem attack on his presumptive presidential challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden. 

Congressional lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have demanded answers; select members are set to be briefed on Monday. Tune into The World today, as we plan to speak to Gen. David Patreus, former CIA chief, about the implications of this report. 

What The World is following

The global death toll for the novel coronavirus has surpassed half a million, with more than 10 million people testing positive for COVID-19. More than one-fifth of those cases are in the United States, where vast inconsistencies in local, state and federal responses have failed to curtail the outbreak. The pandemic, writes the Washington Post, is also accelerating the “corrosion” of the “golden age of globalization.”  

Several security officers and attackers were killed during a firefight at Pakistan’s stock exchange in Karachi Monday. The Baluchistan Liberation Army has claimed responsibility for the attack. In recent years, the separatist group has targeted Chinese interests in the region, which is a center of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In France, The Greens party made gains in nationwide local elections marked by low turnout. President Emmanuel Macron followed up the vote, in which his party had a poor showing, by outlining his environmental agenda. Meanwhile, after traveling to the US for a photo-op with President Donald Trump last week, Poland’s President Andrezj Duda failed to get the “Trump bump” needed to secure a first-round win in elections on Sunday; a run-off election will be held in two weeks against liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski.  

From The WorldThis Latina teen says the pandemic will mark her generation — and shape her vote

Marlene Herrera, 18, is a first-time voter in San Diego County. 

Credit:

Adriana Heldiz/The World

The mental health impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic will be felt for years — especially by young adults. Marlene Herrera, a first-time voter in San Diego, said it’s shaping how she’ll vote this fall. And when the Black Lives Matter protests began, she finally decided which candidate she’ll support.

As Lebanon’s financial crisis worsens, migrant workers are being dumped on the streets like ‘trash’

Former domestic workers from Ethiopia wait outside the Ethiopian Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon.  

Credit:

Rebecca Collard/The World 

In recent weeks, as Lebanon’s economic crisis worsens, about 100 Ethiopian women have been dumped at the Ethiopian Embassy by their Lebanese employers. Human rights advocates say the migrants have little to no recourse, and that the situation is bound to deteriorate further as more people in the country cannot afford to pay domestic workers. The coronavirus restrictions also complicate matters.

Morning focus

Canceled flights are no match for Juan Manuel Ballestero, who crossed the Atlantic in a small sailboat.

The idea of spending what he thought could be “the end of the world” away from his family, especially his father who was soon to turn 90, was unbearable. So, in a small sailboat, he set on an 85-day odyssey across the Atlantic. https://t.co/gxa7zaX10Q

— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 29, 2020In case you missed itListen: Developing ‘instant’ tests for the coronavirus

A medical worker collects a sample from a woman at a center to conduct tests for the coronavirus, amidst its spread in New Delhi, India, June 25, 2020.

Credit:

Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

A number of so-called “instant” tests for the coronavirus are being developed that could offer results within minutes. That could expand testing dramatically and help hospitals in the most vulnerable of places. And, last week’s Supreme Court ruling blocking the Trump administration from immediately ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was a relief for hundreds of thousands of immigrants and their families in the US. But living with DACA status has forced some immigrants to make agonizing decisions. Also, an American mom has sparked a transatlantic battle of sorts — over tea.

 

Don’t forget to subscribe to The World’s Latest Edition podcast using your favorite podcast player: RadioPublicApple PodcastsStitcherSoundcloudRSS.