Russian bounties offered to Taliban militants in Afghanistan to kill US or UK troops there are believed to have resulted in the deaths of multiple US troops, the Washington Post reported Sunday, citing US intelligence gathered from military interrogations.
Multiple people familiar with the matter told the Post it is not clear how many US troops may have been killed as a result of the bounties.
CNN previously reported that Russian intelligence officers for the military intelligence agency GRU recently offered money to Taliban militants in Afghanistan as rewards if they killed US or UK troops there, according to a European intelligence official. The official told CNN the incentives offered by the Russians had, in their assessment, led to Coalition casualties, which would be service members’ deaths or injuries. The official did not specify as to the date of the casualties, their number or nationality, or whether these were fatalities or injuries.
There was discussion as far back as February and March in the US intelligence community and among the top military commanders about the Russian operation to assess the intelligence and what exactly was happening, a US official told CNN on Sunday. There were some efforts at protecting US forces because of the intelligence, the source also said.
The New York Times first reported on Friday that US intelligence concluded months ago that Russian military intelligence offered the bounties, amid peace talks. President Donald Trump was briefed on the intelligence findings and the White House’s National Security Council held a meeting about it in late March, according to the New York Times, citing officials briefed on the matter.
Trump, however, has repeatedly denied receiving a briefing about intelligence that Russians had tried to bribe Taliban fighters to kill US troops.
“Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP,” he claimed in a Sunday evening tweet.
But John L. Ullyot, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told the Times on Sunday night, “The veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be evaluated.”
Earlier Sunday, the President had tweeted that “there have not been many attacks” on US troops by Taliban fighters as evidence that the reported intelligence may be “phony.”
His tweet went a step further than a Saturday statement from the White House in which press secretary Kayleigh McEnany did not deny the validity of the report, but instead said Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were not briefed “on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”
The Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, on Friday denounced the Times report as “baseless allegations” that have led to death threats against Russian diplomats in Washington and London. The Taliban also rejected the report.
There have been more than 2,400 total deaths of US service members since the start of America’s longest war in 2001. Last year was the deadliest in five years for the US in Afghanistan, with 23 service members killed during operations in the country in 2019.
This story has been updated with additional background and a tweet from the President.
CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh, Barbara Starr, Veronica Stracqualursi, Devan Cole and Radina Gigova contributed to this report.