American officials say that Russian military intelligence units secretly offered money to militants connected to the Taliban to kill US troops, even as peace talks were underway, according to reports.
The New York Times said on Friday that officials briefed on the matter were told that a Russian unit was covertly offering rewards for successful attacks on coalition forces as recently as last year.
A number of potential responses were discussed by officials, ranging from a formal diplomatic complaint to Moscow, to escalating sanctions. The White House has not yet authorised any action.
The lack of any response from the Trump administration to Russia‘s reported covert operations, that may have led to the deaths of Americans, has sparked outrage. After being briefed on the report, the president pushed for Russia’s readmittance to the G7 and said that “getting along with Russia is a great thing”.
David Rothkopf, a former official in the Clinton administration, described the president’s actions as “traitorous behaviour” and part of a pattern of consistently helping Russia.
Brian Schatz, Democratic senator for Hawaii, also tweeted about the reported revelations having asked his staff if there was any context that might make them less shocking, “The answer was no”.
Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019. The paper said that while militants are believed to have collected some of the bounty money, it is unclear if any of the deaths are being further investigated.
The US and Taliban agreed a peace deal in late February that would lead to a phased withdrawal of US troops after nearly 20 years.
Just to be extra careful this morning I asked my military/foreign policy staff if there is any context to this NYT story about bounties against American soldiers that makes it less explosive and damning and shocking. The answer was no.— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) June 27, 2020
This would be a huge escalation in the so-called “hybrid war” that Russia is engaged in against the US that has to date included cyber attacks, fake news, and other covert operations.
This is not, as some have suggested, merely a sign of weakness. This is not simply stupidity or recklessness. There is a pattern here. He has consistently tried to help Russia ever since they attacked America, attacked our democracy, to help him win in 2016.— David Rothkopf (@djrothkopf) June 27, 2020
Dmitry Peskov, press secretary for President Vladimir Putin says that the Kremlin has not been made aware of the accusations.
“If someone makes them, we’ll respond,” Mr Peskov told The Times.
A spokesperson for the Taliban denied the findings.
Zabihullah Mujahid said: “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.”
There has been no comment on the report from the Trump administration.