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Timeline of Russian bounty intelligence claims: What we know so far

White House doubts veracity of intelligence linking US troop deaths to Russian-backed plot

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 29 June 2020 21:37 BST
Biden slams Trump over report Russia put bounties on US troops in Afghanistan

Donald Trump has claimed that "nobody" briefed him about intelligence reports that Russia's military offered bounties to Taliban-connected militants in Afghanistan for the killings of US and coalition troops.

Reporting from The New York Times, backed by other news outlets, claimed that US intelligence officials had warned the president in March – and that the Pentagon knew as early as January – while the US was in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, the president had boasted about his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin ahead of an anticipated G7 summit that was scheduled to meet at Camp David, which the president has sought to include Mr Putin in, as Russia was preparing to receive humanitarian aid to combat Covid-19.

Russia was expelled from the old G8 by President Barack Obama after Russia's invasion of Crimea in 2014.

Twenty-two American service members were killed in Afghanistan in 2019, while 13 were killed in 2018, and 11 in 2017. Since 2014, 93 US military and civilian staff members have died in the country, according to the US Department of Defence. Military officials have claimed that several troops were killed by Afghan government forces believed to have been linked to the Taliban in so-called green-on-blue attacks.

The administration has not responded to the possible threats, and the president has ramped up his attacks on the reports by denying the credibility of the intelligence.

Here is a timeline of what we know so far.

24 April 2017

US military officials say they are "not refuting" reports that Russia armed the Taliban days after an attack on an Afghan military base, as the US war and occupation in Afghanistan neared its 15th year.

Then-defence secretary James Mattis visited the country following the killings of at least 140 people by 10 Taliban militants reportedly dressed as Afghan soldiers.

7 February 2018

In one of the deadliest attacks between Russian and US forces in decades, American troops and allied Syrian forces kill dozens of Syrian regime loyalists that reportedly includes Russian mercenaries.

The mercenaries were allegedly working for Wagner, a firm linked to Russian oligarch Yevgeniy Prigozhin – nicknamed "Putin's chef" – who had been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller as part his election investigation in 2016.

April 2019

The Taliban claims responsibility for the deaths of three US Marines and injuries to three others during an attack on an convoy headed to Bagram Airfield.

Early 2020

A Navy Seal Team 6 group discovers $500,000 in cash during a raid on a suspected Taliban base, which intelligence officials link to possible bounty payments.

January 2020

US intelligence officers warn their superiors about a suspected plot among Russian intelligence officials to pay bounties to Afghan militias for killing US and other coalition troops, according to The New York Times.

8 February

Two US troops are killed and six others wounded in Sherzad district in Nangathar province following an attack by "an individual in an Afghan uniform", military officials report.

Afghanistan's defence ministry reports one Afghan soldier was killed and three others were wounded.

29 February

US officials announce a preliminary peace deal with the Taliban, contingent on the Taliban's commitments and the withdrawal of US and Nato troops within 14 months, ending an 18-year war in the country that began following the 9/11 terror attacks on the US.

Under the deal, the US agrees to an initial reduction in its military personnel to 8,600 within 135 days of the agreement.

Defence Secretary Mark Esper had announced the approval of the peace agreement two days later, and the beginning of the withdrawal was scheduled to begin within 10 days of its signing. The peace deal followed a seven-day "reduction in violence" that glimpsed conditions for formal negotiation.


US intelligence officials brief members of an interagency meeting about a Russian plan to offer bounties to Taliban-linked groups for the killings of coalition troops. (On 27 June, the White House denied receiving this information after The New York Times claims that the president was briefed on the intelligence.)

On 9 March, the US begins its troop drawdown in Afghanistan.

8 May

The president tells reporters he discussed his impeachment probe "hoax" with Mr Putin. The Russian president had called Mr Trump to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe.

Mr Trump said: "I said, 'You know, it's a very appropriate time, because things are falling out now and coming in line showing what a hoax this whole investigation was, it was a total disgrace, and I wouldn't be surprised if you see a lot of things happen over the next number of weeks.' ...

"This is just one piece of a very dishonest puzzle."

21 May

The US begins sending 200 ventilators to Russia as part of a $5.6 million humanitarian aid package to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

30 May

The president says he planned to invite Russian president Putin to a G7 summit among world leaders at Camp David, which was postponed. Russia was expelled from the group in 2014 following the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.

1 June

Mr Trump initiates a call with Mr Putin to discuss "the latest efforts to defeat the coronavirus pandemic and reopen global economies" as well as "progress towards convening the G7", according to a White House readout.

A US military Chinook helicopter lands on a field outside the governor's palace during a visit by the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, in Maidan Shar, capital of Wardak province (AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty)

25 June

In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, the president claims: "I was tougher on Russia than any president that's ever lived ... Nobody has done what I've done with sanctions and all – exposing the pipeline deal going into Europe. Nobody did that. Nobody even talked about it."

26 June

The New York Times publishes its story about the Russian plot and US intelligence, later backed up in reportsby the Associated Press, The Washington Post and other outlets.

27 June

In a statement, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany says: "The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny. While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Adviser, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence. 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."

Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden calls the report a "shocking revelation" and says that not only has the president "failed to sanction or impose any kind of consequences on Russia for this egregious violation of international law" he also has "continued his embarrassing campaign of deference and debasing himself before Vladimir Putin."

28 June

On Twitter, the president says that "nobody briefed" him on the intelligence.

He 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 ... Nobody's been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration. With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine - Where's Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their 'source'?"

The president then pivots to attack his Democratic rival.

He said: "Funny to see Corrupt Joe Biden reading a statement on Russia, which was obviously written by his handlers. Russia ate his and Obama's lunch during their time in office, so badly that Obama wanted them out of the then G-8. U.S. was weak on everything, but especially Russia!"

On CNN, the president's former national security adviser John Bolton says that "the fact that the president feels compelled to tweet about the news story here shows that what his fundamental focus ... is not the security of our forces, but whether he looks like he wasn't paying attention. So he's saying, 'Well, nobody told me, therefore you can't blame me'."

The president then shares a tweet from Richard Grenell, who briefly served as the acting national intelligence director in early 2020, criticising the reports.

"I never heard this," Mr Grenell said. "And it's disgusting how you continue to politicise intelligence. You clearly don't understand how raw intel gets verified. Leaks of partial information to reporters from anonymous sources is dangerous because people like you manipulate it for political gain."

The president adds: "The Fake News @ nytimes must reveal its 'anonymous' source. Bet they can't do it, this 'person' probably does not even exist!"

Lindsey Graham, who was golfing with the president that day, shares a Fox News link about the story: "Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region."

Later, The New York Times publishes a second piece reporting that intelligence officials were warned about Russian bounties as early as January.

Following that report, the president says: "Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!!"

29 June

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi requests an immediate briefing from intelligence director John Ratcliffe and CIA director Gina Haspel to all House members.

"The questions that arise are: was the President briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed," the speaker said in her letter to officials. "Congress and the country need answers now. ... Congress needs to know what the intelligence community knows about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable.

She said that the "administration's disturbing silence and inaction endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners."

"The president's refusal to stand up to the Russians also jeopardises lives in the region, as the Afghan government and the United States are engaged in critical peace negotiations with the Taliban," she said.

Ms McEnany told reporters that "there was no consensus within the intelligence community" about the veracity of the reports. "There are some dissenting opinions within the intelligence community," she said. "This was not briefed up to the president because, in fact, it was not verified."

Mr Ratcliffe along with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and national security adviser Robert O'Brien meets with seven GOP lawmakers – but not at that point any Democrats – in the White House Situation Room to discuss the allegations.

Attending the meeting were House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney, Foreign Affairs ranking member Michael McCaul, Armed Services ranking member Mac Thornberry, and four others in prominent national security and leadership positions.

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