Courtesy of Daily Mail
By Eva Lynch
What began as seemingly implausible intelligence brought to the attention of the White House in February has, in the last week, become yet another highly contentious political issue in Washington.
It was recently reported that Rahmatullah Azizi, a businessman in Afghanistan, acted as the middleman in a deep network of corruption between two of the United States’ most formidable adversaries, distributing Russian bounty to militants linked to the Taliban as an incentive to target American soldiers.
This discovery connected several pieces of related intel and confirmed several claims by U.S. officials that Russia is running illicit operations to abet the Taliban and sabotage American efforts in Afghanistan. U.S. intelligence identified Azizi through investigations into these suspicions when those close to him noted his sudden and suspicious mounting wealth.
Once U.S. officials identified Azizi, they began raiding his associates in an attempt to get close to him. Azizi has evaded the raids and is suspected to be in Russia once again. Officials seized half a million dollars while raiding one of Azizi’s homes in Kabul. The interrogations of those apprehended have faintly outlined the logistics of the operation, a complex Hawala system. Azizi regularly traveled to and from Russia to deliver the funds, often dividing and diverting the bounty before it reached Afghanistan.
It remains unclear how the funds were distributed once in Afghanistan. Interrogations suggest the bounty for killing one American soldier was as much as $100,000.
The collusion between Russia and Afghanistan was confirmed by data intercepted by U.S. intelligence revealing bank transfers from a Kremlin-affiliated bank account to an account connected to the Taliban. These transfers corroborated reports of an underground bounty system described by detainees during interrogations.
What’s really shaking Washington is the Trump administration’s lack of response to the information and uncertainty that he was even briefed on the topic. President Donald Trump stated on Sunday that he was not briefed because the information was found questionable. Intelligence officials told the New York Times that the first time suspicions of a conspiracy between Russia and Afghanistan were strong enough to compose a briefing for the President was last February.
As of Thursday, Trump’s only response to the issue has been made in tweet form and claims the recent reports are made up to defame himself and the Republican party.
“Do people still not understand that this is all a made-up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party. I was never briefed because any info that they may have had did not rise to that level,” Trump tweeted.
Others who have commented on the topic include John Bolton. Bolton served as Trump’s third National Security Advisor until his departure from the administration in 2019, which involved a disagreement between the two over Trump’s invitation of several representatives from Afghanistan, including the Taliban, to Camp David for peace talks. The meeting’s ultimate cancellation led to Bolton’s departure.
“You don’t take everything in to the president, but when American troops are threatened by an adversary like Russia in this way, if there’s any indication this is an ongoing operation, it’s something the president needs to take into account,” said Bolton, agreeing with his predecessor to Obama, Susan Rice, that he would have taken the information to Trump immediately.
Trump and administration officials have been briefing congressional Republicans and Democrats on the matter separately. Republicans favor further investigations before proceeding with much action, and Democrats disagree with the President’s assessment of the situation as a hoax and are calling on Trump to take the threat seriously.