Republicans Urge 'Swift And Serious Action' If Reports About Russian Bounties Paid To Taliban True
By RFE/RL June 30, 2020
Republican lawmakers who have been briefed about reports alleging that Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan are calling for consequences for Russia, if the reports are true.
"It has been clear for some time that Russia does not wish us well in Afghanistan," Representatives Mac Thornberry (Texas) and Liz Cheney (Wyoming) said in a statement after attending a briefing on June 29.
They said they believe it is important "to vigorously pursue" any information related to Russia or any country targeting U.S. forces.
Representatives Michael McCaul (Texas) and Adam Kinzinger (Illinois) issued a statement saying they "strongly encourage the Administration to take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable," if the reports are true.
McCaul and Kinzinger said they believe an ongoing review should take place before any retaliatory actions are taken.
The Republican lawmakers were briefed by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and national-security adviser Robert O'Brien.
"We are still investigating the alleged intelligence referenced in recent media reporting," Ratcliffe said in a statement. "Unfortunately, unauthorized disclosures now jeopardize our ability to ever find out the full story."
The Pentagon also is continuing to evaluate the intelligence, its spokesman said in a statement. "To date, [the Defense Department] has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports," Jonathan Hoffman said.
Members of Congress in both parties have called for a full congressional briefing from top intelligence officials, with some also suggesting consequences for Russia and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Democrats have asked whether President Donald Trump may have ignored a threat to U.S. troops as he seeks to improve relations with Russia.
Several Democrats in the House of Representatives are to be briefed on the matter early on June 30.
Trump has denied ever being briefed on the intelligence. White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany insisted on June 29 the reason was there was "no consensus within the intelligence community" that the bounty claims were credible.
O'Brien echoed her comment in a statement late on June 29, saying Trump had not been briefed because the allegation had not been verified or substantiated by the intelligence community.
"Nevertheless the administration, including the National Security Council, have been preparing should the situation warrant action," O'Brien said.
The New York Times, which first reported on the alleged payments on June 26, said on June 30 that Trump received a written briefing about alleged Russian bounties offered to Afghan militants to kill U.S. troops as early as February.
The Times previously reported that the National Security Council held an interagency meeting in late March to discuss possible responses after U.S. intelligence officers and special forces in Afghanistan began raising the alarm as early as January -- but the White House didn't authorize any action.
Other media outlets, including The Washington Post, have published their own stories, saying their sources also described the bounty scheme.
Russia and the Taliban have denied the existence of any bounty to kill U.S. troops.
The Washington Post reported on June 28 that the bounties are believed to have resulted in the death of several U.S. service members in Afghanistan. The New York Times separately reported that U.S. intelligence officials believe at least one U.S. military death was linked to the alleged payments.
The U.S. intelligence was gathered from interrogations of captured militants in recent months, according to the reports.
The United States is investigating whether any Americans died as a result of the Russian bounties, AP reported, quoting U.S. officials. The investigations are focused in particular on an April 2019 attack on a U.S. convoy in which three Marines were killed as they returned to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Democrat-California) wrote the two top intelligence officials on June 29 demanding an immediate briefing to members of Congress. "The questions that arise are: was the president briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed," Pelosi wrote in a letter on June 29 to Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel.
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 AP 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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