U.S. Congress seeks an­swers as re­ports al­lege Rus­sian bounties tied to soldier deaths

The Globe and Mail (Ontario Edition) - - NEWS - MARK HOSENBALL PA­TRI­CIA ZENGERLE

Rus­sian bounty of­fers to Tal­iban mil­i­tants are be­lieved to have led to the death of at least one U.S. soldier in Afghanista­n, ac­cord­ing to U.S. in­tel­li­gence, two news­pa­pers re­ported, and Congress on Mon­day de­manded more in­for­ma­tion about the re­ports.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported late Sun­day that sev­eral Amer­i­can sol­diers are be­lieved to have died as a re­sult of the Rus­sian pro­gram, which the Krem­lin has de­nied and which U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has said he was never briefed on.

The Post said the in­tel­li­gence stemmed from U.S. mil­i­tary in­ter­ro­ga­tions of cap­tured mil­i­tants and was passed up from U.S. Spe­cial Oper­a­tions forces in Afghanista­n.

Separately, The New York Times re­ported U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials be­lieve at least one Amer­i­can mil­i­tary death stemmed from the bounties, cit­ing two of­fi­cials briefed on the mat­ter. Reuters could not im­me­di­ately con­firm the re­ports.

The news­pa­per ar­ti­cles drew out­rage from Trump crit­ics who ar­gued it would have been un­con­scionable for the Repub­li­can Pres­i­dent to have known of a Rus­sian ef­fort to kill U.S. ser­vice­men while seek­ing to im­prove re­la­tions with Moscow.

Mr. Trump sought to cast doubt on the Rus­sian bounty ef­fort, say­ing on Sun­day he was never briefed on the mat­ter, and U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials told him this was be­cause the in­for­ma­tion was not cred­i­ble.

A New York Times re­port on the Rus­sian pro­gram on Fri­day cited un­named of­fi­cials as say­ing the in­tel­li­gence find­ing was briefed to Mr. Trump, and the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil dis­cussed the prob­lem at an in­ter­a­gency meet­ing in late March.

Four U.S. gov­ern­ment sources fa­mil­iar with in­tel­li­gence re­port­ing and anal­y­sis con­firmed to Reuters the ex­is­tence of clas­si­fied U.S. in­tel­li­gence re­ports al­leg­ing that a Rus­sian mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence unit had of­fered bounties to Tal­iban-linked mil­i­tants to kill U.S. and al­lied forces in Afghanista­n. The sources in­di­cated U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies and ex­perts on bal­ance be­lieved the in­tel­li­gence re­port­ing to be cred­i­ble. The sources did not con­firm Mr. Trump’s as­ser­tions that in­tel­li­gence agen­cies had some­how de­clared the re­port­ing was not cred­i­ble.

The United States has in re­cent years ac­cused Rus­sia of pos­si­bly pro­vid­ing sup­port, in­clud­ing weapons, to el­e­ments of the Tal­iban. But U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials have never pub­licly ac­cused Moscow of putting bounties on the heads of U.S. or al­lied sol­diers.

Speaker of the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Nancy Pelosi and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, on Mon­day de­manded the top two U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials pro­vide an im­me­di­ate brief­ing for law­mak­ers.

White House spokes­woman Kayleigh McE­nany told Fox News that mem­bers of Congress would be briefed on the mat­ter on Mon­day.

Mr. Trump sought to cast doubt on the Rus­sian bounty ef­fort, say­ing on Sun­day he was never briefed on the mat­ter.

A con­gres­sional aide said there would be a meet­ing on the is­sue later on Mon­day at the White House at­tended by some con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans.

Demo­cratic Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Max Rose, a U.S. Army vet­eran who served in Afghanista­n, told MSNBC Democrats were not invited to the ad­min­is­tra­tion brief­ing. He ac­cused the White House and some Repub­li­cans of politi­ciz­ing a non-par­ti­san mil­i­tary is­sue while U.S. sol­diers are serv­ing in Afghanista­n, call­ing it “dis­gust­ing and rep­re­hen­si­ble.”

The New York Times and the As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported U.S. mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials were re­view­ing past ca­su­al­ties to see if they were tied to Moscow’s al­leged pay­ments.

One in­ci­dent un­der re­view was an April, 2019, at­tack by the Tal­iban on an Amer­i­can con­voy that killed three U.S. Marines, the As­so­ci­ated Press said, cit­ing uniden­ti­fied sources.

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