The commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Frank McKenzie, said Monday that after two months of looking into a widely reported claim that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban for the killing of U.S. troops still has not been verified:
“It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, told NBC News. McKenzie oversees U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The U.S. continues to hunt for new information on the matter, he said…
McKenzie’s comments, reflecting a consensus view among military leaders, underscores the lack of certainty around a narrative that has been accepted as fact by Democrats and other Trump critics, including presidential nominee Joe Biden, who has cited Russian bounties in attacks on President Donald Trump…
“I found what they presented to me very concerning, very worrisome. I just couldn’t see the final connection, so I sent my guys back and said, look, keep digging. So we have continued to dig and look because this involves potential threats to U.S. forces, it’s open,” he said, adding, “I just haven’t seen anything that closes that gap yet.”…
A U.S. military official familiar with the intelligence added that after a review of the intelligence around each attack against Americans going back several years, none have been tied to any Russian incentive payments.
If the Russians are trying to kill Americans in Afghanistan, he said, “I want to know, because I won’t hesitate to take action if that’s the case. I just haven’t seen it. I just haven’t seen it. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but nothing was out there that I could grasp that connect together in a pattern that I would consider actionable.”
There’s a bit more in the story including the fact that it’s apparently the CIA that is largely convinced this happened or is happening. Gen. McKenzie, without naming anyone in particular, said the people involved in the ongoing argument over this are “very emotional” but that he can’t afford to be. That makes sense because obviously if this were confirmed then the U.S. would have no choice but to urge the president to act.
The hesitation over this story isn’t solely a matter of the military not being convinced of what the intel agencies are saying. Previous reporting from the Wall Street Journal stated that the NSA had “strongly dissented” from other intel agencies about the bounties claim. So even within the intel community there has been some doubt about this.
Back when this was initially reported in late June, President Trump said that he and VP Pence had never been briefed on it. He added that “intel” had told him they didn’t find it credible enough to brief him. I’m sure someone is going to suggest that Gen. McKenzie is just covering for Trump but it’s worth noting that after the death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, President Trump put out some statements about how Baghdadi died and McKenzie refused to back those up.
The general said he could not confirm Trump’s description of Baghdadi “screaming, crying and whimpering” in the minutes before he detonated his vest. “He crawled into a hole with two small children and blew himself up,” McKenzie said when asked about Trump’s characterization. “I’m not able to confirm anything else about his last seconds. I’m just not able to confirm that one way or another.”
So there’s some evidence that McKenzie is a straight shooter even when it might be easier not to be. Meanwhile, it’s an election year and Democrats and the left have been hammering the president on this, claiming that a) the story is true and b) Trump hasn’t wanted to respond. Pelosi made a statement suggesting Putin had some kompromat on the president saying, “I don’t know what the Russians have on the president politically, personally, financially or whatever it is.” Biden’s statement at the time included a lot of “if the story is true” throat clearing but then Joe went on to claim Trump was “debasing himself” before Putin. “His entire presidency has been a gift to Putin,” Biden said. And Rachel Maddow did a 7-minute segment railing about Trump’s lack of response to the bounties, all based on the initial NY Times story.
After all of the pomp and circumstances that Democrats and the media can gin up, it turns out the military can’t find actionable evidence this claim is true. Glenn Greenwald sees a clear pattern:
Over and over and over and over and over.
Will this produce any heightened skepticism the next time the intelligence community anonymously launders unproven, evidence-free claims about US adversaries through gullible media outlets?
Yes, that's a rhetorical question: https://t.co/4WPbtc9HJT
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) September 15, 2020
This story was obviously politicized from the start. Someone “very emotional” leaked this to the Times to generate outrage and it worked. But Democrats have acted as if this were proven when in fact it hasn’t been. That should matter because you can’t hold the president accountable for a failure to act when his top generals are saying, after two months of investigation, this still isn’t actionable. But even after the publication of the NBC story on Monday, some Democrats are still flogging this:
Our servicemembers could be in harm's way right now because of the reported Russian bounties—and Trump's 81 days of silence adds insult to injury.
The Russia Bounty Response Act would force Trump to act against this malign action from Putin.
@senatemajldr, let us vote on it.
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) September 15, 2020
What’s sickening about this is that some of the same people hawkishly demanding the president respond to Russia now had a very different attitude back when Iran was providing EFP roadside bombs that killed and maimed hundreds of US soldiers in Iraq. My recollection is that Democrats were busy talking about the “drumbeat of war” with Iran at the time, not about the need for a tough response from the president. And later when President Obama made his peace deal with Iran, the regime’s murder of our soldiers didn’t seem to matter to many Democrats. So it’s a little hard to take them seriously now.