Saturday Jun 27, 2020
WASHINGTON: A new report by the New York Times has alleged that Russia offered bounties to Afghan militants last year to kill American troops and other coalition forces.
Citing officials briefed on the matter, the Times said the United States determined months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for successful attacks last year.
Militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the newspaper said.
The White House, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined requests from Reuters for comment on the Times report.
President Donald Trump has been briefed on the intelligence finding, the Times said. It said the White House has yet to authorise any steps against Russia in response to the bounties.
Of the 20 Americans killed in combat in 2019, the Times said, it was not clear which deaths were under suspicion.
The New York Times said there were different theories on why Russia would support Taliban attacks, including a desire to keep the United States 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 GRU, 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.
US intelligence concluded that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election in a bid to assist Trump, including through manipulation of social media.
After nearly 20 years of fighting the Taliban, the United States is looking for a way to extricate itself from Afghanistan and to achieve peace between the US-backed government and the militant group, which controls swathes of the country.
On February 29, the United States and the Taliban struck a deal that called for a phased US troop withdrawal.
US troop strength in Afghanistan is down to nearly 8,600, well ahead of a schedule agreed with the Taliban, in part because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, US and NATO officials said in late May.
Russia, in response, denounced the claims as "baseless" and dangerous.
The "baseless and anonymous accusations," published by the newspaper, had "already led to direct threats to the life of employees of the Russian Embassies in Washington D.C. and London," the Russian Embassy in Washington wrote on Twitter.
"Stop producing #fakenews that provoke life threats, @nytimes," it added in a later tweet.