On Friday, the New York Times reported that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants in exchange for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including American troops.
The bounty offer reportedly came around the time that the United States was in negotiations with the Taliban in Afghanistan for a peace agreement that would allow the United States to draw down troops from the country.
Such an offer from the Russian military would amount to a major escalation in the tensions between Russia and the West.
Here’s what we know about the program, according to reports from the New York Times and The Washington Post:
A Russian military intelligence unit offered bounties for the lives of coalition forces in Afghanistan
According to the New York Times, the Russian intelligence unit last year offered militants in Afghanistan money in exchange for killing coalition forces in the country, including Americans.
“Several” US troops in Afghanistan died as a result of the bounty program, according to the Washington Post, which cited anonymous US intelligence officials, though it is unclear exactly how many were killed. The Times reported that US intelligence officials believe the militants did collect at least some bounty money.
A spokesperson for Russian president Vladimir Putin claimed to the Times that the Kremlin was unaware of the accusations. A spokesperson for the Taliban reportedly denied the reports.
Trump was reportedly briefed on the situation
The Times reported that President Trump was given a written briefing on the findings of the US intelligence officials in February. National security council officials held a meeting in March and came up with a range of possible responses, including sanctions and diplomatic measures, according to the Times, but the White House has not yet authorized any.
Trump on Sunday morning denied that he had been briefed on the bounty offer and expressed skepticism of its existence, referring to the alleged Russian aggression as “so-called attacks” on American troops.
...Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration. With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine - Where’s Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their “source”?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2020
Trump critics jump on lack of response
The lack of any apparent formal response has provoked a new round of criticism from Trump’s critics. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday told ABC News that “this is as bad as it gets, and yet the president will not confront the Russians on this score.”
On Monday, she called on US intelligence officials to brief the House of Representatives on the bounty program.
Former vice president Joe Biden called the lack of action “a betrayal” in a tweet on Sunday.
“Donald Trump’s entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond the pale. It’s a betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation, to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way,” he tweeted.
Former national security adviser John Bolton, who is currently in the midst of a media blitz to promote his new book, cautioned Sunday that there’s still a lot we don’t know about the intelligence, but chastised the president for denying knowledge of the situation.
“I’ve never recalled a circumstance where the president himself goes out of his way to say he wasn’t briefed on something,” Bolton said on MSNBC.
Brittany Bowker of the Globe staff contributed to this report.