On the last day of February, the United States signed a preliminary agreement with the Taliban that was intended to bring to an end to two decades of conflict and U. S. military occupation in Afghanistan. However, despite an extended round of chest-thumping by Donald Trump, it took only two days for that agreement to prove the weakest of weak tea, as violence resumed and the Taliban ordered its fighters right back into the fray. Since then, there has been attempts to negotiate a series of interim agreements that would build toward an actual working agreement, but the negotiations haven’t even seriously begun. Officially, the blame for that failure has been on COVID-19 and the pandemic that’s spread around the globe. But on Friday, The New York Times reported another reason why things might not be settling down: Russia paid bounties for militants to attack American forces.
Now The Washington Post has confirmed that story and provided additional details. That includes how Moscow’s bounties on American troops are intended to “muddy the negotiations on Afghanistan” and keep the United States involved in this long, costly, and distracting effort. Which leaves Russia free to attack Ukraine, romp through the Middle East, and generally have its way around the world—all while Donald Trump defends their actions and makes regular phone calls to Vladimir Putin.
As the earlier story made clear, Trump has known about Russia’s contract killing of American soldiers since at least March. That hasn’t prevented Trump from launching into an argument that Russia deserves to be re-admitted to the G7 and that Putin should be invited to the next meeting of the economic organization. Trump was on the phone with the Russian autocrat earlier this month to renew that invitation over the objections of both Canada and the U. K.
As has become all too typical, the White House provided no details on the call. However, the Kremlin did provide a readout to say that: Trump initiated the call, they talked about COVID-19 and some ventilators sent to Russia from the U. S., they talked about the oil market and their mutual desire to see higher prices, and they talked about Russia continuing to act as source of flights for the U. S. space program. What’s notably not on that list is any mention of Russia paying for the death of U. S. forces, or any warnings of retaliation, or even a request to stop.
The topic also didn’t seem to come up on previous phone calls. Like back in May, when Trump called Putin to gloat about the William Barr Justice Department trying to withdraw charges against Michael Flynn. There was supposedly some discussion of arms control that day, but the focus seemed to be on getting rid of treaties that prevent development of next-generation nuclear awfulness. Again, there was no mention of Russia’s program of paying out cash bonuses for people who murder American soldiers. Trump definitely knew about it. He just didn’t complain.
Trump is also not complaining about how the Russian cash-for-corpses program extended to other members of the NATO coalition that have worked with the United States in Afghanistan. Which is certain to have an effect on the enthusiasm that the leaders of those nations have for helping the United States the next time there is a crisis — as well as their enthusiasm about meeting with Putin at one of Trump’s country clubs.