President Donald Trump has admitted that he failed to mention U.S. intelligence that indicates Russia paid the Taliban to kill American troops during a call with Vladimir Putin last week. In fact, Trump says he has “never” brought up the issue with the Russian president apparently because he doesn’t believe the CIA.
The New York Times reported back in June that U.S. intelligence officials concluded “months ago” that a Russian military intelligence unit paid out for each U.S. or allied soldier killed. There is some disagreement in the intelligence community—the National Security Agency reportedly disagreed with the CIA’s findings.
But, since he had Putin on the phone, you might expect a U.S. president to at least ask about intelligence showing that Russia had incentivised Taliban militants to murder American troops. In an interview with Axios on HBO, Trump said he didn’t bother.
Asked why he skirted the issue with Putin last week, Trump replied: “That was a phone call to discuss other things, and frankly that’s an issue that many people said was fake news.”
Last month, the Times report was followed by a flurry of confusion about whether Trump was actually briefed about the damning intelligence. The White House insisted Trump was never briefed, but then it was later reported that it was included in the President's Daily Brief in February—and he may have simply failed to read it.
Asked about whether that was the case, Trump told Axios that he does read the PDB, remarking “they like to say I don’t read, I read a lot,” and went on to say: “I comprehend extraordinarily well. Probably better than anybody that you've interviewed in a long time.”
Trump went on to repeat the claim that the intelligence “never reached [his] desk.”
He also said no evidence that Russia was arming the Taliban had been handed to him, despite the former head of U.S. forces in Afghanistan clearly stating that Russia smuggles weapons to the Taliban from Tajikistan.
Even if it was true, Trump said: “Well, we supplied weapons when they were fighting Russia too. The Taliban, in Afghanistan... I’m just saying, we did that too.”
The president went on to downplay Putin’s desire to intervene in Afghanistan. “Russia used to be a thing called the Soviet Union. Because of Afghanistan, they went bankrupt, they became Russia,” he said. “The last thing that Russia wants to do is get too involved in Afghanistan, they tried that once and it didn’t work out.”