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Headhunting: How Russia paid for the killing of American Soldiers

BY: Giordano Proulx

For nearly the past two decades, the United States has established a foothold where Russia tried and failed some forty years ago, Afghanistan. Overall, the United States’ effectiveness in the region is the subject of much debate, as the twenty-year long war has cost north of one trillion dollars and produced mixed results. As a matter of fact, though many may view it as a success, as the war was a key factor in the discovery of the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden, many others rather believe it to be a bitter failure as the United States is now negotiating with the Taliban to strike a peace deal in the country. However, these talks may indeed be at risk of never coming to fruition as it was reported recently that Russia began paying Taliban soldiers to kill American soldiers in 2019.

Initially, the United States discovered the existence of such a ploy through a series of events beginning with a raid which led to the discovery of large sums of cash in a Taliban outpost. Subsequently, US intelligence decided to look into any large wire transfers to known members of the Taliban and found that some funds were sent from Russia. This information was then exacerbated by the capture and interrogation of several members of the Taliban who confirmed that such a plot was occurring. In addition to such transfers to known opponents of the United States, even some locals who were helping in the rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan have been found to be affiliated to Russia and have received money from them.

With regards to the perpetrators of such a plan, it has been found to be a specific unit of the G.R.U, Russia’s military intelligence unit, charged by the Kremlin to lead campaigns of subversion, sabotage and assassinations against the West. The G.R.U. has also been suspected of being involved in the assassination of a Chechen leader in 2004, an attempted coup d’état in Montenegro in 2016, and was behind the disinformation and disruption of the 2016 US presidential elections. Notably, the fact that the G.R.U. has managed to get in touch with certain Afghan individuals who were subcontracting for the United States demonstrates their reach and the intensity of their operation. Moreover, as the allegations have appeared, the Russian embassy in Washington has stated that it is “fake news”.

Though it still remains unclear as to the reasons for the bounties, some experts believe it is related to a 2018 battle in Syria, where NATO forces killed hundreds of pro-Syrian forces including some Russian mercenaries as they moved toward an American outpost, others instead believe it is an attempt to force the United States pull out of peace talks with the Taliban. Conversely, some politicians have also chimed in on their reasoning as to why US forces were targeted. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi stated that she believed it has to do with Russia’s shortcomings in Afghanistan some forty years ago. While on the topic, Pelosi also mentioned how President Trump may have been loosely involved in the plot, as she stated, “all roads lead to Putin”. She also added that such a ploy would have been less plausible had the bipartisan bill for US sanctions on Russia had included sanctions on the G.R.U. as initially intended, though it was removed at prior to its approval. Surprisingly, voices from both sides of the aisle including Lindsey Graham stating, “it is imperative Congress get to the bottom of it” and Dan Crenshaw commenting “we need answers”. Hence, the fact that even some of Trump’s loyalists are questioning the mishandling of this situation is sure to provoke some Republican infighting.

On the other hand, President Trump’s actions in relation to this issue have so far been quite minimal. In fact, he was briefed about these allegations in early 2019, and had several updates regarding these Russian bounties in his Presidential Daily Briefs (PDB). However, as alleged by John Bolton, former US National Security Advisor, Trump reads the briefs only once or twice a week, providing a reason as to why no action was taken earlier. Additionally, things started to ramp up when the White House National Security Council held an interagency meeting in March 2020 regarding the matter. Regardless of the awareness of such an issue, President Trump has stated that the Russian bounties are a lie or a hoax, and firmly states that he has not been briefed on the matter.

So far, the United States has not taken action with regards to the allegations but has stated that they could start by making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow or put in place a variety of sanctions among other options.

The United Kingdom is also said to have been targeted by these bounties in Afghanistan and believe that at least one service member has been killed as a result of the headhunting. Moreover, the United States believes as many as twenty American troops may have been killed for these bounties, though the situation remains unclear.

Overall, the situation remains unclear though it is certain that the United States will not stand by as Russia keeps funding the Taliban’s headhunting. Additionally, with the US presidential elections only a few months away, President Trump cannot afford to lose the confidence of military service members and their families as they are fundamental to his re-election. Thus, if Trump hoped to remain in office for the next four years, he is surely failing. However, this issue is one of countless Trump has failed to tackle head-on over the past four years. Whether it be criminal justice reform and police brutality, the current global pandemic, immigration, healthcare and gun reform or collusion with foreign governments, Russian headhunting is just another tally on a long list of shortcomings of the current administration.

*All arguments made and viewpoints expressed within Youth In Politics and its nominal entities do not necessarily reflect the views of the writers or the organization as a whole.


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