An intelligence assessment that has not been made public says Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked terrorists for killing Americans, according to a new report.
The Times said it learned of the intelligence assessment from “officials briefed on the matter” who it did not name.
American officials concluded several months ago that the bounties were offered last year, according to the report. It was unclear which, if any, of the 20 American deaths in Afghanistan last year might have been linked to bounties paid by the Russians.
The report said “Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money.”
The National Security Council discussed the issue in March, according to The Times.
The sources that told the newspaper about the intelligence also said the U.S. shared information regarding the bounties with Britain.
The Times framed any link between Russia, the Taliban and slain Americans as “a huge escalation of Russia’s so-called hybrid war against the United States, a strategy of destabilizing adversaries through a combination of such tactics as cyberattacks, the spread of fake news and covert and deniable military operations.”
Dmitry Peskov, press secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Russia has not faced accusations of any such action.
“If someone makes them, we’ll respond,” Peskov told The Times.
The report was rejected by the Russian embassy, which lashed out at U.S. intelligence officials.
‘@MFA_Russia: it has not long been a secret in Afghanistan that members of the US intelligence community are involved in drug trafficking, cash payments to militants for letting convoys pass through, kickbacks from contracts implementing various projects paid by #US🇺🇸 taxpayers. https://t.co/UEgykluRLQ
— Russia in USA 🇷🇺 (@RusEmbUSA) June 27, 2020
Citing its unnamed sources, The Times reported it was unclear “how high in the Russian government the covert operation was authorized and what its aim may be.” The newspaper did say the Russian unit that offered the bounties was known as Unit 29155, part of Russia’s military intelligence agency, or GRU.
Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, rejected The Times report as false.
“These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless — our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources,” he said. “That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them.”
The Times report said at least some of the information about the bounties was culled from interrogating Afghan captives.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany issued a statement pushing back against the allegation in The Times that President Donald Trump had been briefed on the bounties.
“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” she said.
Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an “anonymous source” by the Fake News @nytimes. Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us…..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2020
“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,” the statement 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.”
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe also denied that Trump or Vice President Mike Pence had been briefed on the matter.
“The White House statement addressing this issue earlier today, which denied such a briefing occurred, was accurate. The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate.” (2/2)
— Office of the DNI (@ODNIgov) June 28, 2020
“The White House statement addressing this issue earlier today, which denied such a briefing occurred, was accurate. The New York Times reporting, and all other subsequent news reports about such an alleged briefing are inaccurate,” he said in a statement posted to Twitter.
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