In another brazen attack on the U.S., a Russian military intelligence unit has secretly paid bounties to Taliban-linked fighters to kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, according to a bombshell New York Times report.
The report represents a deadly escalation in Moscow’s repeated efforts to undermine U.S. policy, and came as the administration was seeking to find ways to extract itself from the decades-long war by making peace with the Taliban.
President Donald Trump was briefed on the activity, the New York Times reported Friday, citing officials briefed on the matter – but the U.S. took no evident action.
President Donald Trump delivers remarks to U.S. troops, with Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani standing behind him, during an unannounced visit to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, November 28, 2019. A Russian military unit paid Taliban fighters bounties to kill American forces, according to the New York Times
There were times when the bounties were in fact paid, according to the paper, although it did not identify specific U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan were killed as a result of the Russian bounty payments, according to the paper. The money went to Islamist militants.
The matter was discussed at the White House national security council. Twenty Americans were killed last year in the bloody Afghan war, which began in 2001.
According to the paper, U.S. policy members developed a ‘menu’ of options, from a diplomatic slap to further increases in U.S. sanctions or other unnamed responses. But officials said the White House has taken no response to date.
The group paying the money was described as a Russian military intelligence unit, which the paper did not identify by name.
In this photograph taken on August 28, 2017 US Marines keep watch as unseen Afghan National Army soldiers participate in an IED (improvised explosive device) training exercise at the Shorab Military Camp in Lashkar Gah in the Afghan province of Helmand
In this photo taken on June 6, 2019, US soldiers look out over hillsides during a visit of the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan General Scott Miller at the Afghan National Army (ANA) checkpoint in Nerkh district of Wardak province
A U.S. Army carry team moves the transfer case containing the remains of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Goble during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base, December 25, 2019 in Dover, Delaware. The Times did not identify which of 20 American forces were killed after alleged bounty payments from a Russian military intelligence unit
The U.S. has already sanctioned Russia following the country’s interference in the U.S. elections, which prosecutors connected to President Vladimir Putin. The Trump administration took no action to retaliate for the bounties, according to the report
Afghan Taliban fighters and villagers attend a gathering as they celebrate the peace deal signed between US and Taliban in Laghman Province, Alingar district on March 2, 2020
Trump received substantial criticism during the 2016 campaign for his repeated calls to improve relations with Moscow. Then after he took office, he came under fire for his closed-door meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin with only translators present, and for publicly accepting Putin’s denial of interference in the elections.
Former Trump national security advisor Mike Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts after urging the Russian ambassador not to retaliate against U.S. sanctions imposed during the Obama administration for election interference.
Flynn then sought to reverse his guilty plea.
The revelation follows serious allegations in a new book by former National Security Advisor John Bolton, who claims Trump asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to help his reelection by buying U.S. farm products.
Trump weathered a House Democratic impeachment effort after the release of his call to the president of Ukraine urging investigations of rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Trump said the call was ‘perfect’ and was acquitted of impeachment articles on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The CIA, the NSA, and the Pentagon all declined comment to the paper.
In February the U.S. inked a deal with the Taliban that would bring about an end to the war, the longest in U.S. history, while slowing drawing down U.S. forces. ‘I really believe the Taliban wants to do something to show that we’re not all wasting time,’ Trump said after the U.S. and the Taliban reached the agreement in Doha. He said he would be meeting with Taliban leaders and added: ‘They will be killing terrorists. They will be killing some very bad people. They will keep that fight going.’
Russia has longstanding ties to Afghanistan, having been ousted by Mujahadeen forces who got American backing in the 1980s after Russia’s 1979 invasion.
Last fall, Trump called off secret meetings with the Taliban planned for Camp David during one phase of peace talks after a car bomb attack in Kabul. The talks eventually resumed.
Taliban officials held talks in Moscow in September following the collapse of U.S.-Taliban balks. Russia publicly stressed dialogue at the time, Al Jazeera reported at the time, quoting Russia’s TASS news agency.