Russia working with Taliban to force US troops out of Afghanistan, Pentagon says, amid row over Kremlin 'bounties'

US intelligence sources have claimed that Russian agents were paying bounties to Taliban-connected fighters for killing American troops  

Graig Graziosi
Wednesday 01 July 2020 21:46
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Trump attacked by Pelosi for ignoring briefing on Russia placing bounties on US soldiers

The Pentagon released a report on Wednesday claiming that the Russians have been working alongside the Taliban to drive US troops out of Afghanistan.

The report comes just days after the New York Times reported that Russian intelligence agents were paying bounties to Taliban-connected fighters for killing US troops.

The Pentagon report covers the time period between December 2019 and May 2020.

“As of February, the Russian government was working with the central government, regional countries and the Taliban to gain increased influence in Afghanistan, expedite a US military withdrawal, and address security challenges that might arise from a withdrawal,” the report stated.

Russian officials have denied any involvement in the activities covered in the report. The Pentagon believes Russia is interested in seeing peace between the US and the Taliban in hopes that a good relationship will keep the US from returning to Afghanistan.

The report notes that the Taliban has become more violent since a February deal was struck with the US. Under the terms of the deal, the US would reduce the number of troops it has in the country and, in return, the Taliban would sever its links with al Qaeda, which actively works to sabotage the Afghan government.

According to the Pentagon, the US has fulfilled its side of the bargain but the Taliban has allegedly continued its involvement with elements of al Qaeda. The US is planning to further reduce its troop numbers in Afghanistan regardless. The US still has 8,000 troops in Afghanistan as of February 2020.

Intelligence sources told the New York Times that President Trump had been warned of the Russian bounties months ago.

The president has been excoriated over claims that he does not read his daily intelligence briefings and has not retaliated against Russia.

On Wednesday, Mr Trump called the story a “hoax” created by the “fake news” to hurt him and the Republican Party while simultaneously claiming he’d never been briefed on the situation because the information wasn’t credible enough to reach his desk.

Anonymous intelligence officials told CNN that the Russian bounty story was included in at least one of the president’s daily briefs.

Members of Congress were briefed in separate sessions on Tuesday concerning Russia’s alleged bounty offers. Following the briefing, Republican legislators claimed the information was never brought to Mr Trump because US intelligence agencies couldn’t agree on the credibility of the reports.

“Our intelligence agencies didn’t agree with each other, which is pretty well established now. Intel was continuing to be assessed before [Mr Trump] was brought into it,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe, a Republican, told Politico.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson told the publication that the initial reports were “completely false” and were “unverified and completely not actionable”.

Mr Inhofe said Democrats would seize on the story as a way of hurting the president heading into the 2020 US election.

“This is going to continue to be a Washington, D.C. story – one where they try to make the president look bad,” he said. “Because here is what we also know, and we don’t need any special intelligence to tell us: Putin is a murderer and a thug. He hates America and our interests.”

Democrats briefed on the matter were less forgiving of Mr Trump.

Following the briefing, Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters that the president needed to acknowledge the Russian story and report to the American people.

“I find it inexplicable in light of these very public allegations that the president hasn’t come before the country and assured the American people that he will get to the bottom of whether Russians are putting a bounty on the heads of American troops,” Mr Schiff said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the Trump administration’s response to the reports.

“We responded in precisely the correct way with respect to making sure that our forces were postured appropriately, that they were aware of the level of the threat, the credibility of the threat, and that we were there,” Mr Pompeo said.

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