On Friday, the New York Times reported on a US intelligence report claiming Russian operatives were offering the Taliban bounties to assassinate US soldiers in Afghanistan. However, as US lawmakers demand answers and action, one expert says serious skepticism about the report’s veracity is missing, which threatens the increasingly fragile peace.
Matthew Hoh, a veteran and peace activist who in 2009 resigned from the State Department over the American escalation of the war in Afghanistan, told Radio Sputnik’s Loud and Clear on Monday that the claim “doesn’t sound plausible at all.”
Hoh’s writings have appeared in a wide variety of publications, and he is a winner of the Ridenhour Prize for Truth Telling.
The Times’ Friday report claimed such an operation would be “a significant and provocative escalation of what American and Afghan officials have said is Russian support for the Taliban” and “would also be a huge escalation of Russia’s so-called hybrid war against the United States.”
However, the article presents no firm evidence, just the claims of “anonymous” US intelligence officials, whose allegations are “said to be based at least in part on interrogations of captured Afghan militants and criminals.” The Times further admits the officials disclosed nothing about the mechanics of the supposed operation at all.
Hoh reminded hosts Brian Becker and John Kiriakou that through prisoner interrogations like those that ostensibly yielded information about the operation, “you get the intelligence you want, whether or not it’s true or not, from interrogations, particularly when you torture.” He noted that since the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, “torture is commonplace in interrogations of prisoners of war or of detainees … and this has remained true not just because US forces did it, but because Afghan forces continually do it.”
“At the most basic level, I would say this whole thing is garbage, however, you can understand … how something like this evolves and comes to be.”
“There would most likely be what’s called ‘commander’s critical information requirements.’ And that goes from everything from what your immediate boss wants all the way up to what the top people in Washington, DC, deem as the most important thing.”
“So at some point, there’s always going to be something about adversaries, about ‘are the Russian involved, the Chinese involved, the Iranians involved?’ Now, you’re going to have some guy getting tortured in Afghanistan during an interrogation, and at some point he says something about Russia. That, then, makes it into an intelligence report, even though it was gotten about through torture, it’s unsubstantiated, there’s no corroborating information, it’s total nonsense. And then that, because it’s about the Russians, it goes through all the channels from Afghanistan all the way to Washington, DC.”
“That’s how these things come about. Anyone who’s been involved with any type of intelligence work – in Iraq, Afghanistan, anywhere – has seen the garbage that comes from intelligence. Not only that, you also paid people for intelligence,” Hoh told Sputnik. “It’s very easy. You pay a guy, he’ll tell you whatever you want to hear, because he wants to keep getting paid. It doesn’t really matter if that intelligence ever actually is factual or comes true, as long as the people who are paying like what they’re hearing.”
“So again, you have another way that you could – again, giving it the benefit of the doubt – how this piece of intelligence ended up in Washington, DC, saying the Russians were looking for bounties.”
Hoh also attacked the claim outright, saying the ostensible Russian operation wouldn’t even follow its own logic.
“It makes no sense why the Russians would do this. You could come up with reasons for it, if it were true … Say it was true, and say they were paying bounties: it completely backfired and nearly spoiled the whole reason for it, if the reason was to try and chase Americans out, because you’re killing Americans – which again doesn’t make sense, because the Taliban have been killing Americans since 2001, 2,500 of them. And then all of a sudden, the Americans are going to leave because they kill one or two Americans based on a bounty?”
Indeed, Taliban spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid made just such a point to the New York Times for the outlet’s June 26 story about the supposed plot.
“These kinds of [accusations of] deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless – our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources,” Mujahid said. “That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them.”
In fact, Taliban attacks have previously led the US to maintain its presence in Afghanistan, rather than pushing it to withdraw troops: in September 2019, US President Donald Trump delayed the peace process for six months after a September 5 suicide bombing in Kabul killed 12 people, one of whom was a US soldier.
Hoh noted that barely six months ago, the Afghanistan Papers revealed just what a snafu the 18-year-long war has become, which should have cast doubt on the veracity of the Times’ story: instead, outlet after outlet “just jump on it and run with it, as if we don’t have all this proof that systematic lying by the US government about Afghanistan.”
“At least 400 American officials involved in the Afghan War detailed in some manner” in written testimony to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) “how the war was a lie,” Hoh said. “Let alone the lies about the wars in Iraq, of course, in Libya, Syria, the lies that have basically allowed for the escalation of these wars all across Africa.”
“Our big media is just so happy to jump on these unsubstantiated, unnamed reports. [It] can only lead to greater tension with Russia, which will only lead to Donald Trump possibly making … worse decisions, and only lead to more bellicose rhetoric. You have Republicans and Democrats demanding that Trump do something right now,” Hoh said.
“So there’s a lot to this that does well beyond the idea that this thing is so nonsensical that we shouldn’t even be talking about it.”
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.