The White House denied Saturday that President Donald Trump had been briefed on intelligence that reportedly showed Russia had offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants if they killed U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
Trump was briefed on the findings in March but has not yet decided how to respond, a New York Times report claimed Friday.
Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany fiercely denied the president had known for months, stating that ‘neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence’.
But she added: ‘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.’
The New York Times reported Friday that President Trump was briefed in March regarding intelligence that reportedly showed Russia had offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants if they killed U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. The White House has denied this
The report said that that U.S. intelligence officials concluded months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
That left open the possibility such intelligence does exist.
‘The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny,’ said McEnany’s statement.
‘While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.’
On Saturday, Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden blasted the president over his potential inaction.
He said that, if true, it contains a ‘truly shocking revelation’ about the commander in chief and his failure to protect U.S. troops in Afghanistan and stand up to Russia.
Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany fiercely denied the president had known of the intelligence but did not say that there was no merit to the report of Russian bounties to Taliban forces
McEnany said Vice President Mike Pence, pictured, had also not been briefed in March
‘The truly shocking revelation that if the Times report is true, and I emphasize that again, is that President Trump, the commander in chief of American troops serving in a dangerous theater 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.
‘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 added.
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.
‘I’m quite frankly outraged by the report,’ Biden said.
He promised that if he is elected, ‘Putin will be confronted and we´ll impose serious costs on Russia.’
Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden blasted the president Saturday over his potential inaction
The New York Times reported Friday that American intelligence officials concluded months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The report said the Russians offered rewards for successful attacks last year, at a time when the U.S. and Taliban were holding talks to end the long-running war.
Twenty Americans were killed last year in the bloody Afghan war, which began in 2001, but it was not clear if any of these deaths were under suspicion.
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 and no explanation for the delay was given.
The information was reportedly kept a closely guarded secret until the administration began expanding briefings this week.
They also shared intelligence with the British government whose troops are said to be among those targeted.
The news hit the Trump Administration as it was already grappling with the coronavirus pandemic and as Trump hoped that a peace deal with the Taliban would end the Afghanistan War in the last few months of his re-election campaign.
Trump is currently withdrawing troops, meeting one of the militants’ key demands as he attempts to end America’s longest war.
The Taliban have denied the report, reiterating that it was committed to an accord signed with Washington in February that paves the way for withdrawing all foreign forces from Afghanistan by next year.
The militants also said homemade explosives account for most fatalities among US forces.
‘The nineteen-year jihad of the Islamic Emirate is not indebted to the beneficence of any intelligence organ or foreign country,’ the Taliban said in a statement issued in Kabul.
The Taliban said home-made explosives accounted for most of the casualties among US forces
It came as Trump hoped that a peace deal with the Taliban would end the Afghanistan War in the last few months of his re-election campaign. Pictured Afghan Taliban fighters and villagers celebrate the peace deal signed between U.S. and Taliban in February
The group, widely believed to have received years of support from Pakistani intelligence, also denied previous US accusations it was given arms by Russia.
‘The Islamic Emirate has made use of weapons, facilities and tools … that were already present in Afghanistan or are war spoils frequently seized from the opposition in battles,’ it said.
Russia has also denounced the report, with its embassy in Washington tweeting that the ‘baseless and anonymous accusations’ in the Times story had ‘already led to direct threats to the life of employees’ at its embassies in Washington and London.
‘Stop producing #fakenews that provoke life threats, @nytimes,’ it added in a later tweet.
Russia has a tortured history in Afghanistan, where the former Soviet Union in its final years was bogged down in a devastating fight against Islamist guerrillas, then backed by Washington.
The Russian embassy in the United States fiercely denied the allegations in a Twitter thread on Friday night
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
The New York Times said there were different theories on why Russia would support Taliban attacks, including a desire to keep Washington bogged down in war.
It said that the Russian unit may also be seeking revenge over the US killing of Russian mercenaries in Syria, where Moscow backs President Bashar al-Assad.
According to the newspaper, the Taliban operation was led by a unit known as the G.R.U., which has been blamed in numerous international incidents including a 2018 chemical weapons attack in Britain that nearly killed Russian-born double agent Sergei Skripal.
In recent years, the unit has been linked to assassination attempts or revenge plots aimed at destabilizing the West.
Yet it would be the first time that it was known to have initiated attacks on Western troops, a major escalation of force against the U.S.