The same New York Times reporting anonymous claims of Russian bounties on US troops in Afghanistan opined in 2017 that President Trump should let ISIS “bleed” Russian forces in Syria rather than help defeat the terrorists.
Thomas Friedman, who has won three Pulitzer prizes as a journalist and columnist for the Times, argued in an April 2017 column that the US should “back off” fighting ISIS in Syria because the terrorist group “plays as dirty as Iran and Russia” and would prevent government forces from crushing “moderate rebels” in the country.
“This is a time for Trump to be Trump – utterly cynical and unpredictable,” Friedman wrote.
US should use ISIS as a proxy – New plan for Syria published in New York Times (Op-Edge) https://t.co/nDjsZ8twvK
Friedman likened such a strategy to US policy during the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan war, when Washington backed Islamist fighters – including Osama bin Laden – to kill Soviet forces and prolong the fighting. As for Syria, he wrote, “Everyone there plays dirty, deviously and without mercy. Where’s that Trump when we need him?”
The Times now cites anonymous intelligence sources as saying Russia targeted US and coalition troops in Afghanistan by offering bounties to kill them. The allegations are being used as the latest line of attack against Trump by the mainstream media, which has accused the president of failing to take action against Russia, even though the claims haven’t been verified.
Trump has denied the Times’ allegations, going as far as to say in a tweet on Wednesday that the bounty stories are “just another hoax” to make him look bad and that the “secret source probably does not even exist.”
The US Defense Department said earlier this week that there was “no corroborating evidence” to support the newspaper’s claims, and national intelligence director John Ratcliffe said leaks to the media jeopardize ongoing efforts to investigate the unverified allegations. The Russian embassy in Washington and a Taliban spokesman denied the claims and called them “baseless.”
The Times itself acknowledged in a February 2017 ombudsman editorial that anonymous sourcing can be “overused and abused,” and that it undermines credibility with readers. That same month, the newspaper published an anonymously sourced story saying that Trump campaign staffers had repeated contacts with Russian intelligence officials – allegations that former FBI director James Comey later said were “almost entirely wrong.”
The Times has a long history of being forced to issue corrections or editor’s notes on anonymous stories that proved to be false or misleading, including a 2015 article indicating that the Justice Department had been asked to do a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices.
On Tuesday, however, the Times doubled down on its claims, saying that electronic data on bank transfers from an account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account “bolstered suspicions” about bounties on US troops. No evidence of the bank transfers was provided, and the Times shifted to saying recipients of the payments were “criminals closely associated with the Taliban,” rather than the Taliban itself.
The Taliban emerged from infighting by Islamist guerrillas in the wake of the Soviet-Afghan war. Even before Soviet troops rolled into Afghanistan in 1979, the US government gave aid to Afghan rebels, at least partly to escalate an anti-communist insurgency and lure Moscow into what then-national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski called an “Afghan trap.” Bin Laden and other foreign Islamists who joined the fight founded the Al-Qaeda terrorist group after the war.
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