Re­ports of Rus­sia bounty on troops: What we know

Pelosi asks in­tel­li­gence chiefs to brief Congress

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Wil­liam Cum­mings

WASH­ING­TON – U. S. in­tel­li­gence officials said Rus­sian op­er­a­tives se­cretly offered cash pay­ments to Tal­iban- linked mil­i­tants to kill coali­tion troops, in­clud­ing Amer­i­cans, in Afghanista­n, ac­cord­ing to news me­dia re­ports.

The New York Times, which first re­ported the story Fri­day, said a unit of Rus­sia’s mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence agency – the GRU, which is known for or­ches­trat­ing as­sas­si­na­tions and desta­bi­liza­tion efforts against West­ern democ­ra­cies – was be­hind the boun­ties on Amer­i­can troops.

Rus­sia and the Tal­iban de­nied the re­ports, and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said he didn’t know about the re­ported boun­ties.

In­ter­ro­ga­tions of mil­i­tants and crim­i­nals in Afghanista­n were the ba­sis for the U. S. in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment that Rus­sia offered money for suc­cess­ful at­tacks on coali­tion troops last year, ac­cord­ing to the Times.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported that sus­pi­cions about Rus­sia deep­ened when mem­bers of the elite Naval Spe­cial War­fare Devel­op­ment Group, known to the pub­lic as SEAL Team 6, raided a Tal­iban out­post and re­cov­ered roughly $ 500,000 in early 2020.

Some U. S. officials have long ac­cused Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin of act­ing against Amer­i­can in­ter­ests in Afghanista­n, where the Soviet Union con­ducted a bloody and costly war in the 1980s.

In March 2018, Gen. John Ni­chol­son – who was then the com­man­der of U. S. and coali­tion forces in Afghanista­n but has since re­tired – told the BBC Rus­sia sup­plied the Tal­iban with arms. Rus­sia and the Tal­iban de­nied the al­le­ga­tion.

Did the boun­ties lead to at­tacks?

Un­named in­tel­li­gence officials told the AP they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing at­tacks on U. S. troops in Afghanista­n in 2019 to see whether there is any ev­i­dence con­nect­ing them to the Rus­sian boun­ties. In­ci­dents in which Afghan se­cu­rity forces killed coali­tion troops – known as “green on blue” at­tacks – are a par­tic­u­lar fo­cus of the in­quiry.

An at­tack on a con­voy in which three U. S. Marines were killed in April 2019 is be­ing closely looked at, the AP

re­ported.

The Wash­ing­ton Post re­ported that U. S. in­ter­ro­ga­tions of cap­tured mil­i­tants in­di­cated the boun­ties “re­sulted in the deaths of sev­eral U. S. ser­vice mem­bers.” Over­all in 2019, 17 U. S. ser­vice mem­bers died in hos­til­i­ties in Afghanista­n, ac­cord­ing to the Depart­ment of De­fense.

Trump de­nies knowl­edge

The Times and AP re­ported that Trump was briefed on the in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment. Ac­cord­ing to the Times, the briefing took place in late March.

Di­rec­tor of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence John Rat­cliffe said in a state­ment Satur­day that he had “confirmed that nei­ther the Pres­i­dent nor the Vice Pres­i­dent were ever briefed on any in­tel­li­gence al­leged by the New York Times in its re­port­ing.”

On Twit­ter, Trump in­sisted he did not know about the re­ported bounty and at­tacked the Times for the re­port.

“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,” Trump said Sun­day morn­ing.

“No­body’s been tougher on Rus­sia than the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion,” he said in an­other tweet.

Sun­day night, Trump said he had

“just” been told by in­tel­li­gence officials that they did not find the as­sess­ment “cred­i­ble” and had de­cided not to brief him or Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence on the mat­ter. He spec­u­lated that the Times pub­lished the re­port “to make Re­pub­li­cans look bad!!!”

White House press sec­re­tary Kayleigh McE­nany said at a White House news briefing Mon­day that the in­tel­li­gence was not shared with Trump be­cause it had not been “ver­ified.”

“There is no con­sen­sus within the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity on these al­le­ga­tions,” McE­nany said, adding there were “dis­sent­ing opin­ions” on the in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment.

The Times de­fended its re­port­ing. “We stand by our story, the de­tails of which have not been de­nied by the Pres­i­dent’s own Na­tional Se­cu­rity agen­cies,” spokes­woman Eileen Mur­phy said.

Law­mak­ers de­mand an­swers

Re­pub­li­cans and Democrats re­acted to the news re­ports with de­mands that the White House brief law­mak­ers on the in­tel­li­gence as­sess­ment and the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s re­sponse.

Rep. Liz Cheney, R- Wyo., said Sun­day that the White House had to ex­plain why Trump and Pence were not briefed on the as­sess­ment and whether it was in­cluded in the pres­i­dent’s daily in­tel­li­gence briefing.

“Who did know and when?” Cheney tweeted. “What has been done in re­sponse to pro­tect our forces & hold Putin ac­count­able?”

“We’ve known for a long time that

Putin is a thug and a mur­derer, and if the al­le­ga­tions re­ported in the New York Times are true, I will work with Pres­i­dent Trump on a strong re­sponse,” tweeted Se­nate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man James In­hofe, R- Okla. “Right now, though, we need an­swers. I have asked the ad­min­is­tra­tion to share what it knows, and I ex­pect to know more in the com­ing days.”

Mon­day, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D- Calif., sent a letter to Rat­cliffe and CIA Di­rec­tor Gina Haspel re­quest­ing an in­ter­a­gency briefing for all House mem­bers on the re­ported Rus­sian bounty on U. S. troops.

“The ques­tions that arise are: was the Pres­i­dent briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed,” Pelosi wrote. “Congress and the coun­try need an­swers now.”

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D- N. Y., called for an “im­me­di­ate briefing from the Di­rec­tors of Na­tional In­tel­li­gence and the CIA for all 100 Sen­a­tors on re­ports that Rus­sia placed boun­ties on US Troops in Afghanista­n.”

“We also need to know whether or not Pres­i­dent Trump was told this in­for­ma­tion, and if so, when,” Schumer said.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R- Ky., said in a state­ment that he has “long warned about Rus­sia’s efforts to un­der­mine U. S. in­ter­ests in the Mid­dle East from Syria to Afghanista­n.”

“The United States needs to pri­or­i­tize de­fense re­sources, main­tain a sufficient re­gional mil­i­tary pres­ence, and con­tinue to im­pose se­ri­ous con­se­quences on those who threaten us and our al­lies – like our strikes in Syria and Afghanista­n against ISIS, the Tal­iban, and Rus­sian mer­ce­nary forces that threat­ened our part­ners,” McCon­nell said.

McE­nany said a bi­par­ti­san group of eight law­mak­ers was briefed on the mat­ter Mon­day at the White House.

Bi­den’s re­sponse

Pre­sump­tive Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den seized on the re­ports, which he called “shock­ing,” to at­tack the pres­i­dent.

“The com­man­der in chief of Amer­i­can troops, serv­ing in the dan­ger­ous theater of war, has known about this for months, ac­cord­ing to The Times, and done worse than noth­ing,” Bi­den said Satur­day dur­ing a vir­tual town hall hosted by the group Asian and Pacific Is­lan­der Amer­i­can Vote.

“Not only has he failed to sanc­tion or im­pose any kind of con­se­quences on Rus­sia for this egre­gious vi­o­la­tion of in­ter­na­tional law, Don­ald Trump has con­tin­ued his em­bar­rass­ing cam­paign of def­er­ence and de­bas­ing him­self be­fore Vladimir Putin.”

Bi­den said Trump’s en­tire pres­i­dency “has been a gift” to Putin, “but this is be­yond the pale.”

In re­sponse, Trump said, “Rus­sia ate his and Obama’s lunch dur­ing their time in office.”

“U. S. was weak on ev­ery­thing, but es­pe­cially Rus­sia!” Trump said of the Obama era.

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