US troops, killed by paid assassins? Maybe so, if this story holds any water. A Russian military spy unit has secretly paid Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan—something President Trump learned about months ago but chose not to act, US officials tell the New York Times. According to US intelligence, the Russian unit shuttled bounty money to Islamist militants (or armed criminals who work with them) back in 2019. Trump and the White House's National Security Council examined the issue in late March and mulled various options, like making a diplomatic complaint or escalating sanctions, but the White House has not yet responded. This, of course, could become political dynamite if it's confirmed.
"If true, this is outrageous conduct by Russia," tweeted Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif), who suggested that Trump might be "beholden to Putin" as he puts "US troops' lives at risk by doing nothing." But there are problems. Only a few coalition troops died in Afghanistan amid a wave of attacks in 2019, and just four Americans were killed in combat there in 2019. And if it's true, why would the Russians do it? Officials say it might be an attempt to derail US-Taliban peace talks or get revenge for Russian mercenaries killed by US troops in a 2018 battle in Syria. Meanwhile, the Kremlin is keeping mum and the Taliban has issued a flat denial. And the revelation has triggered "intense debate" at the White House about how to respond, the Washington Post reports. (Read more Russia stories.)