Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has attacked President Donald Trump over a report that he said, if true, contains a “truly shocking revelation” about the commander in chief and his failure to protect US troops in Afghanistan and stand up to Russia.
The New York Times reported on Friday that US intelligence officials concluded months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered rewards to Taliban-linked armed fighters for killing American troops in Afghanistan.
The report said the Russians offered rewards for successful attacks last year, at a time when the US and Taliban were holding talks to end the long-running war.
The report was confirmed by The Washington Post.
“The truly shocking revelation that, if the Times report is true, and I emphasise that again, is that President Trump, the commander in chief of American troops serving in a dangerous theatre of war, has known about this for months, according to the Times, and done worse than nothing,” Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, said during a virtual town hall.
Biden, a former vice president for eight years, pledged retaliation if he becomes president.
“If I’m elected president, make no mistake about it, Vladimir Putin will be confronted and we’ll impose serious costs on Russia,” Biden said.
The White House said neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence was briefed on such intelligence.
“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,” press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
Russia called the report “nonsense”.
“This unsophisticated plant clearly illustrates the low intellectual abilities of the propagandists of American intelligence, who instead of inventing something more plausible have to make up this nonsense,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
The Times quoted a Taliban spokesman denying that its fighters have such a deal with the Russian intelligence agency.
The newspaper, citing unnamed officials familiar with the intelligence, said the findings were presented to Trump and discussed by his National Security Council in late March.
Officials developed potential responses, starting with a diplomatic complaint to Russia, but the White House has yet to authorise any step, the report said.
Biden slammed Trump for his reported failure to act.
“Not only has he failed to sanction and impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law, Donald Trump has continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin,” the former vice president said.
Biden called it a “betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation – to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way”.
He said Americans who serve in the military put their life on the line. “But they should never, never, never ever face a threat like this with their commander in chief turning a blind eye to a foreign power putting a bounty on their heads,” he said.