In this file photo taken on June 26, 2020 US President Donald Trump looks on during an American Workforce Policy Advisory Board Meeting in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Picture: MANDEL NGAN / AFP
In this file photo taken on June 26, 2020 US President Donald Trump looks on during an American Workforce Policy Advisory Board Meeting in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC. Picture: MANDEL NGAN / AFP

When three US Marine reservists were killed in a roadside bomb attack in 2019 in Afghanistan, they seemed like more tragic casualties of America’s two-decade war against Islamic fundamentalists there. Now, however, the case has taken on an even more sinister twist: US intelligence officials suspect the attackers might have been motivated by Russian bounties on American troops.

Congress must demand any evidence that President Vladimir Putin has the blood of the three Americans, or other US service members, on his hands — and whether President Donald Trump was told about the Russian payments and did nothing about them.

Russia and the Taliban have denied the intelligence findings. But the evidence keeps mounting: News organisations have reported that the allegations were first included in a written daily intelligence briefing for Trump in 2019, that then-national security adviser John Bolton told Trump about it in March 2019, that the intelligence was again included in the president’s Daily Brief in February 2020 after US troops discovered $500,000 in cash in a Taliban raid, that the information was credible enough for British allies to be informed, and that American intelligence agencies uncovered evidence of Russian money transfers to the Taliban.

Even if the president was in the dark, he isn’t any more. Has the commander-in-chief expressed even an ounce of concern that a foreign leader — with a known record of seeking to inflict pain on the US since the Soviet Union got bogged down in Afghanistan and lost the Cold War — might have bought and paid for dead American troops? No. Instead, Trump’s first instinct was to tweet that the initial report about bounties was “another phony ... Russia Hoax”.

Isn’t it, in fact, more plausible that while Trump has been busy praising his relationship with Putin and urging that Russia be allowed back into the Group of Seven leading industrial nations (from which it was banished after seizing and annexing Crimea in 2014), it would be politically damning to admit during a presidential election year that he was aware of Russian perfidy and did nothing?

Answers to these and other questions are owed to Congress and the American people, especially the families of the fallen US service members. /Tysons Corner, July 1

USA Today

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