As reported by NYT claims described as "intelligence" on Russia offering money to the Taliban for killing US soldiers circulate through the media headlines, the story continues to develop particulars - nevermind that the very beginning of it has not been confirmed by a single official entity.
Ignoring the avalanche of scepticism and denial of the initial allegations from all sides, the US media sticks to the storytelling, moving on to reveal that the "Russian-Taliban bounties" appear to date back several years.
The Daily Beast, citing alleged ex-spokesman for Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Manan Niazi, who spoke via encrypted phone call, claimed that the Taliban "have been paid by Russian intelligence for attacks on US forces in Afghanistan from 2014 up to the present".
“The Taliban have been paid by Russian intelligence for attacks on US forces—and on ISIS forces—in Afghanistan from 2014 up to the present", said Niazi, described as a person who used to be a "very senior figure in the Taliban", but now a dissident, claimed to The Beast.
The story could as well be turned into an exciting movie, as it offers a wide range of dramatic parts from Russia "paying US dollars to Taliban" for several years to spy-like intrigues of undercover Taliban people who pretended to be businessmen in order to "convert Russian funds to cash" in Afghanistan.
Sometimes, however, it also has narrative flaws, for example, the two people that Niazi claimed to be "undercover businessmen who went to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan", denied their involvement when asked by the DB.
“I don’t want to comment—I don’t even want to talk about Niazi,” said one, contacted by The Beast. “Niazi is our enemy and playing into the hands of the NDS.”
The report refers to the so-called Hawala system - an "informal way to transfer money" - based on "family relationships or regional affiliations".
This system is brought up in another thrilling story, this time again from The New York Times, which names another Russian bounty-related "businessman" - Rahmatullah Azizi - to be a middleman "between the GRU and militants linked to the Taliban who carried out the attacks".
Apparently striving for another Pulitzer for the story based on unconfirmed information, just like in the case of this prize-winning series of anti-Russia articles that were later debunked, the outlet conducted research impossible even for the National Intelligence and Defence Department of the US.
In a fresh "ground-breaking" article, Azizi is described as a "central piece of a puzzle rocking Washington", who "was among those who collected the cash in Russia". According to "Afghan officials" - who are, as usual, unnamed - "$100,000 per killed soldier were offered for American and coalition targets". The controversial enterprise apparently made Azizi extremely wealthy, as the report describes his luxurious possessions, from cars to four-story houses.
Every story has a villain, and the Nytimes.com piece connects the dots in a way that leads, once again, to the devious Unit 29155 - a mysterious GRU intelligence branch that is traditionally held responsible by the US for "assassinations and other operations overseas" - including the famous Sergei Skripal poisoning that was "highly likely" carried out by the ominous Russian assets.
Official Positions on the Matter
The stories suggested by The Daily Beast and The New York Times ignore a recent Pentagon report which followed the initial NYT Friday report on Russian "bounties" to the Taliban for killing US troops, and found no evidence. The document only pointed at Russian "efforts in the hope that reconciliation will prevent a long-term US military presence".
US President Donald Trump, echoed by his Director of National Intelligence and his National Security Adviser, denied that he knew anything about the matter, repeating that the unverified "intelligence" did not rise to the level where it would be reasonable to brief the president.
The Kremlin refuted the allegations as "nonsense" while not understanding why unconfirmed media reports would raise the possibility of sanctions, a move voiced by Democrats.
The Taliban itself has denied the claims, insisting that its activities are not connected with foreign countries or intelligence agencies.