Lawmakers Press For Briefing On Claims Russia Paid Bounties For Taliban To Kill U.S. Troops
By RFE/RL June 29, 2020
Democratic and Republican lawmakers are demanding a full congressional briefing from top intelligence officials on reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
President Donald Trump has denied ever being briefed on the intelligence because he said intelligence officials did not find the bounty claims credible.
The New York Times, which first reported on the alleged payments on June 26, said the president was told of the matter in March.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to the two top intelligence officials on June 29 demanding an immediate briefing for members of Congress.
"The questions that arise are: was the President briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed," Pelosi, a Democrat, wrote on June 29 to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel.
'No Intelligence Consensus'
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (Democrat-New York) called on Ratcliffe and Haspel to "immediately" brief all 100 senators on the reports.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany said a bipartisan group of key lawmakers will be briefed on the matter on June 29.
McEnany insisted there was "no consensus in the intelligence community" regarding the reports, which were sourced to anonymous intelligence officials. She said there were "dissenting opinions" in the intelligence community.
Even Republicans close to the president have demanded more information.
Senator Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, said Congress must understand the veracity of the reports.
Representative Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, joined the panel's chairman, Democratic Representative Adam Smith, in demanding a Defense Department briefing.
"The American people -- and our service members -- deserve to know the truth about what the White House knew about these Russian operations that may have directly resulted in the deaths of American service members," Smith said.
'Secret Russian Unit'
The New York Times, citing anonymous U.S. officials briefed on the matter, reported that a secret unit of Russia's GRU military intelligence linked to assassination attempts in Europe and other activities offered rewards to Taliban-linked militants for successful attacks last year.
The newspaper published additional information on June 28 saying U.S. intelligence and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted superiors as early as January to the suspected Russian plot to pay bounties, citing officials briefed on the matter.
The Washington Post reported on June 28 that the bounties are believed to have resulted in the deaths of several U.S. service members in Afghanistan. The New York Times separately reported that U.S. intelligence officials believe at least one American military death was linked to the alleged payments.
The U.S. intelligence was gathered from interrogations of captured militants in recent months.
Russia and the Taliban have denied the existence of any bounty to kill U.S. troops.
The allegations come as the United States seeks to advance a nascent peace process in Afghanistan after signing a deal with the Taliban in February that could see U.S. troops leave the country next year.
With reporting by AFP, AP, dpa, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2020. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.
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