White House denies Trump briefed on alleged Russia plot to kill US troops in Afghanistan

Kremlin says Vladimir Putin also not told of claims Moscow paid Afghan militants to attack Americans

Late-night Taliban suicide attack in Kabul hours after US agrees deal to withdraw 5,000 troops from Afghanistan

The White House has denied reports that Donald Trump ignored a warning from US intelligence that the Russian military had offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan to kill American troops and other coalition forces.

The New York Times reported the claim on Friday, triggering a storm of accusations that the president had failed to protect US and allied troops, including those from Britain.

Citing officials briefed on the matter, the newspaper said the US determined months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for successful attacks last year.

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, were believed to have collected some bounty money, the newspaper said. The White House, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence initially declined requests for comment on the report.

On Saturday afternoon, the White House denied Mr Trump had been briefed on the matter, but did not dispute that US troops were being targeted.

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“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny," Kayleigh McEnany, the press secretary, said in a statement.

"While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA director, national security advisor 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.”

American officials had said Russian military intelligence units secretly offered money to militants connected to the Taliban to kill US troops, even as peace talks were underway.

The Times reported that officials briefed on the matter had been told a Russian unit was covertly offering rewards for successful attacks on coalition forces as recently as last year.

The newspaper had also said the National Security Council discussed the findings of American intelligence sources in an interagency meeting in late March.

A number of potential responses were reportedly discussed by officials, ranging from a formal diplomatic complaint to Moscow, to escalating sanctions.

The initial 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.

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.

Dmitry Peskov, press secretary for president Vladimir Putin, said that the Kremlin had 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 intelligence claims.

Spokesperson 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.”

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