#Russia secretly offered bounties on US troops to Taliban, report says

#Russia secretly offered bounties on US troops to Taliban, report says

June 26, 2020 | 5:14pm

A Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan for killing coalition forces — including targeting American troops, according to a report Friday.

The revelations, from American intelligence officials — reported by The New York Times — came as the US, Taliban militants and the Afghan government are struggling to cut a peace deal to end the 18-year conflict.

The US determined months ago that the Russian unit, which has also been linked to assassination attempts and covert operations in Europe that are intended to destabilize the West, had secretly offered rewards for successful attacks last year, the paper reported.

Taliban-linked Islamist militants, as well as armed criminals closely associated with them, collected some of the bounty money, the intelligence officials said.

Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which of them could have been linked to Russia’s bounty.

Trump was briefed on the bounties, and the National Security Council discussed the problem in late March, the officials told The Times.

The NSC brass developed potential options — from demanding that the Kremlin stop the practice to sanctions and other possible responses — but the White House has not approved of any action against Russia or President Vladimir Putin, a former top KBG official himself.

American and Afghan officials have long said that Russia was supporting the Taliban, but the revelation was the first time Russia had been accused of sponsoring armed attacks against American and NATO troops.

The Russian actions were an alarming escalation of the country’s efforts to destabilize the US through cyberattacks, spreading disinformation and undercover military operations.

The Kremlin was unaware of the accusations, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told The Times. “If someone makes them, we’ll respond,” Peskov said. A Taliban spokesman did not respond to messages from the paper seeking comment.

The officials who shared the intelligence did not explain the Trump administration’s delayed response — though normalizing relations with Russia was a key part of Trump’s campaign for office.

Since then, he’s lobbied for Russia’s return to the G-7, after it was bounced for its invasion and annexation of Crimea.

Trump at a summit in Helsinki in 2018 suggested that he believed Putin’s denial that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 presidential election on his behalf despite the unanimous conclusion of the US intelligence community that it had.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe reached the same conclusion.

But the administration did share the intelligence with the UK this week, according to the report, because British forces were also among those targeted.

American and Afghan officials had already accused Russia of providing small arms to the Taliban, although Russian government officials dismissed the claims as “idle gossip.”


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