Trump denies he was briefed on Russia-Taliban bounty intelligence

Homemade explosives, often left on roads to target military convoys (pictured) account for most fatalities among US forces. (REUTERS)
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Updated 28 June 2020

Trump denies he was briefed on Russia-Taliban bounty intelligence

  • Officials have not denied the underlying intelligence about Russia's arrangements with the Taliban

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump denied Sunday being briefed on intelligence that reportedly showed Russia had offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing US soldiers in Afghanistan.
The report by the New York Times sparked renewed questions about Trump’s reluctance to confront Russia over behavior that, if accurate, would represent a serious national security challenge.
In a pair of early-morning tweets, Trump angrily slammed the report as “probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax.”


“Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an ‘anonymous source’ by the Fake News @nytimes,” he wrote.
“Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us....”
“Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration.”
The Times, citing anonymous officials, said Trump was briefed on the US intelligence findings in March, but has not decided how to respond.
According to the report, US intelligence had concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit offered rewards to Taliban-linked militants to kill troops of the US-led coalition in Afghanistan.
The rewards were purportedly incentives to target US forces as Trump tries to withdraw troops from the conflict-torn country — one of the militants’ key demands — and end America’s longest war.
While Trump cast aspersions on the Times report, neither he nor other top administration officials denied the underlying intelligence conclusion about the Russian activities.
John Ratcliffe, the new director of national intelligence, issued a statement late Saturday denying Trump or Pence had been briefed “on any intelligence alleged by the New York Times in its reporting.”
He also vouched for an earlier White House statement that denied Trump had been briefed on the matter but left open the possibility that the intelligence existed.
“This does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of The New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.

John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser and now peddling a highly critical tell-all book, said if it’s true Russia was paying to have US troops killed, “that is a very, very serious matter.”
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Bolton said, “To me it looks like just another day at the office in the Trump White House.
“I’ve never recalled a circumstance where the president himself goes out of his way to say he wasn’t briefed on something.”
Top Democratic lawmaker Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of seeking to “ignore any allegation against Russia.”
“This is totally outrageous. You would think that the minute the president heard of it he would want to know more instead of denying that he knew anything,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.”

The Taliban have denied the report, reiterating that they were committed to an accord signed with Washington in February that paves the way for withdrawing all foreign forces from Afghanistan by next year.
The militants also said homemade explosives account for most fatalities among US forces.
“The 19-year jihad of the Islamic Emirate is not indebted to the beneficence of any intelligence organ or foreign country,” the Taliban said in a statement issued in Kabul.
The group, widely believed to have received years of support from Pakistani intelligence, also denied previous US accusations it was given arms by Russia.
Russia also denounced the report, with its embassy in Washington tweeting that the “baseless and anonymous accusations” in the Times story had “already led to direct threats to the life of employees” at its embassies in Washington and London.

Russia has a tortured history in Afghanistan, where the former Soviet Union in its final years was bogged down in a devastating fight against Islamist guerrillas, backed at the time by Washington.
The Times said there were different theories on why Russia would support Taliban attacks, including a desire to keep Washington bogged down in war.
It said Russia may also be seeking revenge over the US killing of Russian mercenaries in Syria, where Moscow backs President Bashar Assad.
According to the newspaper, the Taliban operation was led by Unit 29155, an arm of Russia’s military intelligence agency GRU, which has been blamed in numerous international incidents including a 2018 chemical weapons attack in Britain that nearly killed Russian-born double agent Sergei Skripal.


Malaysia to reinstate pilots once Pakistani licenses OK’d

Updated 07 July 2020

Malaysia to reinstate pilots once Pakistani licenses OK’d

  • 30 percent of pilots grounded including 107 in foreign airlines

KUALA LUMPUR: The Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia (CAAM) will reinstate Pakistani pilots as soon as Pakistani authorities verify their permits, an official told Arab News on Monday, after their temporary suspension due to a fake license scandal. 

Pakistan grounded almost 30 percent of its pilots last week after the country’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan said that they might have falsified their qualifications. 

Pakistan has 860 pilots, 107 of whom work for foreign airlines.

“The CAAM has sent two letters requesting verification from PCAA (Pakistani Civil Aviation Authority) as well as to inform them on the temporary suspension of Pakistani license holders in Malaysia,” Nurilya Anis Rahim, a public relations officer at CAAM, said in an email. 

Rahim added that the pilots’ licenses had been put on hold until further information from the PCAA.

“We are currently still waiting for a response from PCAA. Once an official confirmation has been made, we will reinstate these pilots with immediate effect.”

Captain Chester Voo, CAAM CEO, announced that it would temporarily suspend 20 Pakistani pilots employed with “local operators” such as flying schools, flying clubs and training organizations.

Rahim said that the decision was taken to ensure the safety and security of Malaysia’s civil aviation industry. 

“It is to ensure that all employed pilots in this country hold a valid license and abide by Malaysia’s Civil Aviation Regulation.”

The UK, EU and Vietnam have banned Pakistani pilots and barred Pakistan International Airlines’ (PIA) operations as well.

One analyst said that Malaysia’s stand was part of its “zero-compromises” approach.

“Malaysia has always taken a conservative stance which includes a zero-compromise on the integrity of certification and qualification of pilots,” Rizal Kamaruzzaman, a Malaysian aviation expert and executive director of Tindakan Strategi, told Arab News.

He added that the joint verification approach was an excellent opportunity for regulators in Pakistan and Malaysia to “clean” the register and weed out all pilots with dubious qualifications. 

“The move by the CAAM will also alert the rest of the airlines and general aviation aircraft to review the technical crew manifest flying into Malaysia and will definitely have a ripple effect on the aviation sector.”

He urged aviation regulators from other countries to learn a lesson from Pakistan.

“The trust and mutual recognition among regulators are a sacred pact to ensure safety for aircraft, pilots, crews, engineers and the main client that are the passengers are not compromised anywhere around the world,” he said.

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