United States intelligence officers and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted their superiors as early as January to a suspected Russian plot to pay bounties to the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan, according to officials briefed on the matter.
The crucial information that led the spies and commandos to focus on the bounties included the recovery of a large amount of American cash from a raid on a Taliban outpost that prompted suspicions. Interrogations of captured militants and criminals played a central role in making the intelligence community confident in its assessment that the Russians had offered and paid bounties in 2019, another official has said.
Armed with this information, military and intelligence officials have been reviewing American and other coalition combat casualties since early last year to determine whether any were victims of the plot. Four Americans were killed in combat in early 2020, but the Taliban have not attacked American positions since a February agreement to end the long-running war in Afghanistan.
The emerging details added to the picture of the classified intelligence assessment, which The New York Times reported on Friday was briefed to President Trump and discussed by the White House’s National Security Council at an interagency meeting in late March. The Trump administration had yet to act against the Russians, the officials said.
January. The Pentagon knew since January. The White House lies that "Trump was never briefed" fell apart instantly over the weekend, but now Republicans are starting to bail on Trump over this.
Republicans in Congress demanded more information from the Trump administration about what happened and how the White House planned to respond.
Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the third-ranking House Republican, said in a Twitter message on Sunday: “If reporting about Russian bounties on U.S. forces is true, the White House must explain: 1. Why weren’t the president or vice president briefed? Was the info in the PDB? 2. Who did know and when? 3. What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?”
Multiple Republicans retweeted Ms. Cheney’s post. Representative Daniel Crenshaw, Republican of Texas and a former Navy SEAL, amplified her message, tweeting, “We need answers.”
On CNN, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, said that the reported Russian actions “would be consistent with the Russian practice over the last few years of doing its best secretly to try to undermine Western government, including the United States.”
Trump called the story a hoax on Twitter on Sunday. That won't fly this time. Even your FOX News loving relatives understand "The Russians paid bounties to the Taliban to kill our troops in Afghanistan and Trump did nothing." And even if Trump really wasn't briefed, he's still doing nothing.
Ms. Pelosi said that if the president had not, in fact, been briefed, then the country should be concerned that his administration was afraid to share with him information regarding Russia.
Ms. Pelosi said that the episode underscored Mr. Trump’s accommodating stance toward Russia and that with him, “all roads lead to Putin.”
“This is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score, denies being briefed,” she said. “Whether he is or not, his administration knows, and some of our allies who work with us in Afghanistan have been briefed and accept this report.”
The Washington Post not only confirms the Times story, but finds that "several" US troops were killed as a direct result of these bounty payments.
Russian bounties offered to Taliban-linked militants to kill coalition forces in Afghanistan are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members, according to intelligence gleaned from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants in recent months.
Several people familiar with the matter said it was unclear exactly how many Americans or coalition troops from other countries may have been killed or targeted under the program. U.S. forces in Afghanistan suffered a total of 10 deaths from hostile gunfire or improvised bombs in 2018, and 16 in 2019. Two have been killed this year. In each of those years, several service members were also killed by what are known as “green on blue” hostile incidents by members of Afghan security forces, which are sometimes believed to have been infiltrated by the Taliban.
The intelligence was passed up from the U.S. Special Operations forces based in Afghanistan and led to a restricted high-level White House meeting in late March, the people said.
The meeting led to broader discussions about possible responses to the Russian action, ranging from diplomatic expressions of disapproval and warnings, to sanctions, according to two of the people. These people and others who discussed the matter spoke on the condition of anonymity because of its sensitivity.
The disturbing intelligence — which the CIA was tasked with reviewing, and later confirmed — generated disagreement about the appropriate path forward, a senior U.S. official said. The administration’s special envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, preferred confronting the Russians directly about the matter, while some National Security Council officials in charge of Russia were more dismissive of taking immediate action, the official said.
It remained unclear where those discussions have led to date. Verifying such intelligence is a process that can take weeks, typically involving the CIA and the National Security Agency, which captures foreign cellphone and radio communications. Final drafting of any policy options in response would be the responsibility of national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien.
And the Associated Press confirms the story as well: Trump was briefed, discussions and possible solutions were presented, American troops were killed in an incident in 2018 that could have been related to the Russian bounty payments to Taliban militants, and Trump did absolutely nothing as a result.
While Russian meddling in Afghanistan is not a new phenomenon for seasoned U.S. intelligence officials and military commandos, officials said Russian operatives became more aggressive in their desire to contract with the Taliban and members of the Haqqani Network, a militant group that is aligned with the Taliban in Afghanistan and that was designated as a foreign terrorist organization in 2012. Russian operatives are said to have met with Taliban leaders in Doha, Qatar and inside Afghanistan; however, it is not known if the meetings were to discuss bounties.
The officials the AP spoke to said the intelligence community has been investigating an April 2019 attack on an American convoy that killed three U.S. Marines after a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they were traveling back to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan. Three other U.S. service members were wounded in the attack, along with an Afghan contractor. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. The officials the AP spoke to also said they were looking closely at insider attacks — sometimes called “green-on-blue” incidents — from 2019 to determine if they are also linked to Russian bounties.
In early 2020, members of the elite Naval Special Warfare Development Group, known to the public as SEAL Team Six, raided a Taliban outpost and recovered roughly $500,000. The recovered funds further solidified the suspicions of the American intelligence community that the Russians had offered money to Taliban militants and other linked associations.
One official said the administration discussed several potential responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step.
As I've said before, the quality of the blackmail that the Russians must have not only on Trump, but the majority of the GOP in Congress right now must be staggering. Absolutely everyone sat on this story for nearly six months, not a peep.
This one will have legs long into election season.