US intelligence shows Russian bounties led to troop deaths

Updated June 30, 2020

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Officials were also probing whether $500,000 found during a US raid on a Taliban outpost earlier this year was tied to the programme. — AFP/File
Officials were also probing whether $500,000 found during a US raid on a Taliban outpost earlier this year was tied to the programme. — AFP/File

WASHINGTON: Russian bounty offers to Taliban militants led to the deaths of several US soldiers according to US intelligence agencies, the Washington Post reported, and Congress on Monday demanded more information about the reports.

It was unclear how many US or coalition troops may have been targeted or killed under the Russian program, the Post said late on Sunday, but the intelligence stemmed from US military interrogations of captured militants and was passed up from US Special Operations forces in Afghanistan.

The New York Times separately reported that US intelligence officials believe at least one American military death stemmed from the bounties, citing two officials briefed on the matter.

The reports drew outrage from critics of Republican US President Donald Trump who argued it was unconscionable for him to have known of a Russian effort to kill American servicemen while seeking to improve relations with Moscow.

Trump sought to cast doubt on the Russian bounty effort, saying on Sunday he was never briefed on the matter and that US intelligence officials told him this was because the information was not credible.

The Kremlin on Monday also denied the bounty report, first published by the New York Times on Friday, that Russian forces had offered to pay Taliban-linked militants to kill US and other Western soldiers in Afghanistan.

“These allegations are lies,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had never discussed the allegations.

Two US government sources familiar with intelligence reporting and analysis confirmed the existence of classified US intelligence reports alleging that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill US and allied forces in Afghanistan.

The sources indicated US government agencies and experts on balance believed the intelligence reporting credible. The sources did not confirm Trump’s assertions that intelligence agencies had somehow declared the reporting was not credible.

Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, wrote to the top two US intelligence officials on Monday and sought an immediate briefing for lawmakers.

“Congress and the country need answers now. I therefore request an interagency brief for all House Members immediately,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News that members of Congress would be briefed on the matter on Monday.

The New York Times and the AP also reported US military and intelligence officials were reviewing past casualties to see whether they were tied to Moscow’s alleged payments.

One incident under review was an April 2019 attack by the Taliban on an American convoy that killed three US Marines, the AP said, citing unidentified sources. Officials were also probing whether $500,000 found during a US raid on a Taliban outpost earlier this year was tied to the programme, it added.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2020