Russia offered Taliban-linked militants bounties to kill US troops in Afghanistan; Moscow denies: Report

Russia offered Taliban-linked militants bounties to kill US troops in Afghanistan; Moscow denies: Report

ISLAMABAD-NEW YORK,A Russian military unit secretly sought to offer rewards to Taliban-linked militants to incentivize them to hunt and kill NATO troops in Afghanistan, which include American forces, The New York Times reported Saturday, citing unnamed U.S. intelligence officials.

The report said that the U.S. intelligence apparatus has known for months about the alleged efforts of the Russian military intelligence unit, which reportedly provided rewards to militants for successful attacks last year, as the Trump administration engaged in peace talks to end the nearly two-decade long war.

U.S. troops were among the targeted coalition forces, according to the Times, which reported that some militants or associated entities are believed to have received reward money.

While 20 Americans died last year in combat in Afghanistan, it is unclear how many — or which specific cases — are linked to the killing bounties, the Washington-datelined report said. 

President Donald Trump and other intelligence officials on the National Security Council reportedly discussed the matter in a meeting in late March, where they weighed a series of potential responses. However, no formal steps have been made, the Times reported.

The newspaper's sources said they were unclear why there has been a delay. The motivations of the Russian intelligence unit's alleged efforts are also unclear, the report said.

Meanwhile, Russia on Saturday denounced the newspaper report as “baseless” and dangerous.

The “baseless and anonymous accusations,” published by the newspaper, had “already led to direct threats to the life of employees of the Russian Embassies in Washington DC and London,” the Russian Embassy in Washington wrote on Twitter.

“Stop producing #fakenews that provoke life threats, @nytimes,” it added in a later tweet.

The US Department of Defence and CIA declined to comment on the Times story. The National Security Council and the State Department also declined to comment.

“We do not comment on alleged NSC internal deliberations," NSC spokesman John Ullyot was quoted as saying in American media reports.

The report about Russia’s alleged actions also comes as the White House and the country grapples with a growing crisis from the coronavirus pandemic, with cases surging in a number of states.

After nearly 20 years of fighting the Taliban, the United States is looking for a way to extricate itself from Afghanistan and to achieve peace between the US-backed government and the Taliban, who controls swathes of the country.

On Feb 29, the United States and the Taliban struck a deal that called for a phased US troop withdrawal.

US troop strength in Afghanistan is down to nearly 8,600, well ahead of a schedule agreed with the Taliban, in part because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, US and NATO officials said in late May.

Trump has generally sought to maintain an accommodating relationship with Russia, including recently seeking to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to an expanded meeting of the Group of 7 countries. He has also previously indicated that he believed Putin’s denial about interfering in the 2016 election, despite US intelligence community’s conclusions.