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Russian bounty program
The Russian bounty program is an alleged project of Russian military intelligence, specifically Unit 29155 of the GRU, to pay bounties to Taliban-linked

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Alleged Russian military program of paid assassinations

The Russian bounty program is an alleged project of Russian military intelligence, specifically Unit 29155 of the GRU, to pay bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American and other allied soldiers in Afghanistan. Several US military personnel are thought to have died as a result of the bounty program, which additionally targeted coalition forces from the United Kingdom.

US intelligence reports from as early as January 2020 suggested the existence of the bounty program. A CIA assessment of the intelligence concluded that members of Unit 29155 had placed bounties on United States military personnel and other coalition forces in 2019.

Contents
  • 1 Background
  • 2 Intelligence gathering and assessment
  • 3 Reporting and reactions
  • 4 See also
  • 5 References
Background Main articles: War in Afghanistan (2001–present) and Russia–United States relations

In 2010, Iran reportedly paid Taliban fighters $1,000 for each U.S. soldier they kill in Afghanistan.[1]

Russia initially supported the United States' War on Terror and agreed to provide logistic support for the United States forces in Afghanistan. In May 2015, Russia closed a key military transport corridor which allowed NATO to deliver military supplies to Afghanistan through the Russian territory.[2] Reports that Russia supplies arms to the Taliban have persisted for several years with contact in Northern Afghanistan beginning around 2015.[3] Security officials from the United States and Afghanistan have previously determined that Russia provides financial support and arms to the Taliban and its leaders.[4][5] Russian government officials have called the accusations baseless.[5] Carter Malkasian, a former adviser to US military commanders in Afghanistan, said that Russia began cultivating relationships with "certain Taliban elements" in northern Afghanistan around 2015, ostensibly as a response to Islamic State activity.[3] According to the BBC, Russia "is deeply concerned about the rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the region spreading in its direction. And it sees the Taliban as one potential bulwark against this."[6]

Unit 29155 is a covert unit of the GRU tasked with foreign assassinations and other covert activities. The unit has been linked to the 2016 Montenegrin coup plot, the poisoning of Bulgarian arms manufacturer Emilian Gebrev, and the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal.[7]

In 2019, 23 American service members were killed during operations in Afghanistan.[8] Ten US service members died from gunfire or improvised explosive devices in 2018 and 16 in 2019. Another two were killed in 2020 prior to the February ceasefire and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several of the soldiers were killed in green-on-blue attacks (attacks by members of Afghan security forces against coalition forces).[3]

On February 29, 2020, the Trump administration signed a conditional peace agreement with the Taliban,[9] which calls for the withdrawal of foreign troops in 14 months if the Taliban uphold the terms of the agreement.[10] In May 2020, President Trump said "it is time" to bring U.S. soldiers home from Afghanistan.[11]

Intelligence gathering and assessment

Sometime before January 2020, a large amount of US cash was recovered following the raid of a Taliban outpost. Subsequent interrogations of criminals and captured militants[4][3] led to reports by Afghanistan-based U.S. Special Operations and intelligence officers that militants had been paid bounties in 2019 for their targeting of military personnel from the United States.[3][4] Information on the bounty program was circulated in intelligence reports and two officials said that program was known by the region's CIA Station Chief as well as military forces tasked with engaging the Taliban.[4]

The CIA produced an intelligence assessment, reviewing and confirming the findings.[3] The assessment concluded that Russian military operatives had covertly offered rewards for successful attacks on coalition forces in 2019.[12] Rewards from the bounty program were thought to have been collected by Islamist militants or their criminal associates.[5] Military officials also reviewed past combat casualties to determine whether any of the deaths could be attributed to the bounty program.[4] Officials did not describe how military targets were selected or the exact manner by which militants were paid.[5]

The intelligence community's assessment led to an interagency meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) at the White House in late March 2020.[3][4] Government officials said the highest levels of the White House had been briefed on the bounty program and that the program had been included in the President's Daily Brief.[4] A range of responses to Russia were discussed at the meeting, including registering a diplomatic complaint and a series of sanctions.[3][5] While US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad advocated for directly confronting Russia, officials with the NSC were "more dismissive of taking immediate action".[3] In the months that followed, officials said the bounty program had been "treated as a closely held secret". During the last week of June, expanded briefings were held[5] and the British government was briefed. They were the only coalition member to be formally informed about the intelligence.[3]

The White House has yet to authorize any response to Russia.[5]

Reporting and reactions

Citing unnamed sources, on June 26, 2020, The New York Times reported on a Russian military program to pay bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American soldiers in Afghanistan.[3] Two days later, The Washington Post reported that the bounty program had resulted in the death of at least one US soldier.[4] Several US military personnel are thought to have died as a result of a bounty program, which targeted coalition forces including those of the United Kingdom.[3] The Times further reported that American investigators had identified at least one attack they suspected of being thus incentivized: a car bombing on April 8, 2019 outside of Bagram Airfield which killed three Marines and wounded three more, as well as injuring at least six Afghani citizens.[13]

The Taliban and Russia have both denied that the bounty program exists.[3] Russia accused the New York Times of spreading fake news and claimed that story "led to direct threats to the life of employees of the Russian Embassies in Washington D.C. and London."[14] Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov denied any knowledge of the bounty program. Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid denied any relations to intelligence agencies, saying "our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources".[5]

President Donald Trump and his aides denied that he was briefed on the intelligence. Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe said that Trump had not received a briefing on the bounty program. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said the same. Trump called the bounty program "Fake News" and a hoax.[3] On June 28, he tweeted:

Donald J. Trump Twitter @realDonaldTrump

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. Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us.....

June 28, 2020[15]

Donald J. Trump Twitter @realDonaldTrump

...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"?

June 28, 2020[15]

Later the same day, Trump said intelligence about the bounty program was not "credible" and thus was not reported to him.[16] White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said that "There is no consensus within the intelligence community on these allegations and in effect there are dissenting opinions from some in the intelligence community with regards to the veracity of what's being reported."[17] NSC spokesperson John Ullyot said "the veracity of the underlying allegations continues to be evaluated."[3]

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi criticized Trump's decision to hide the bounty program, and referred to his recent efforts to restore Russia to a new G8.[3] Among congressional Republicans, Senator Lindsey Graham and Representatives Liz Cheney and Daniel Crenshaw expressed outrage at the news and asked for an explanation,[4][3] while Representative Adam Kinzinger called on Trump to stop "Russia's shadow war."[4] Richard Grenell, who was acting Director of National Intelligence up until May 2020, said that he had not been made aware of the bounty program.[3] British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was briefed on the bounty program and still has not released the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee's report on Russian interference in British politics.[7]

The existence of a Russian bounty program would mark an escalation of the ongoing Second Cold War and the first time GRU is known to have orchestrated attacks on Western military personnel.[5]

See also
  • United States military casualties in the War in Afghanistan
  • Operation Cyclone
References
  1. ^ "Report: Iran pays $1,000 for each U.S. soldier killed by the Taliban". NBC News. May 9, 2010..mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output .citation q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-free a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-free a{background-image:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Lock-green.svg/9px-Lock-green.svg.png");background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/65/Lock-green.svg");background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .id-lock-registration a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-registration a{background-image:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-gray-alt-2.svg.png");background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg");background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .id-lock-subscription a,.mw-parser-output .citation .cs1-lock-subscription a{background-image:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-red-alt-2.svg.png");background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg");background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:9px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-ws-icon a{background-image:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/4c/Wikisource-logo.svg/12px-Wikisource-logo.svg.png");background-image:linear-gradient(transparent,transparent),url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/Wikisource-logo.svg");background-repeat:no-repeat;background-size:12px;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-maint{display:none;color:#33aa33;margin-left:0.3em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .citation .mw-selflink{font-weight:inherit}
  2. ^ "Russia closes NATO supply corridor to Afghanistan". The Washington Times. May 19, 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Nakashima, Ellen; DeYoung, Karen; Ryan, Missy; Hudson, John (June 28, 2020). "Russian bounties to Taliban-linked militants resulted in deaths of U.S. troops, according to intelligence assessments". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Schmitt, Eric; Goldman, Adam; Fandos, Nicholas (June 28, 2020). "Spies and Commandos Warned Months Ago of Russian Bounties on U.S. Troops". The New York Times.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Savage, Charlie; Schmitt, Eric; Schwirtz, Michael (June 26, 2020). "Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill U.S. Troops, Intelligence Says". The New York Times.
  6. ^ "What's going on between Russia, US and Afghanistan?". BBC News. June 29, 2020.
  7. ^ a b Doward, Jamie (June 27, 2020). "Russia offered bounty to kill UK soldiers". The Observer. London. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  8. ^ LeBlanc, Paul (June 28, 2020). "Washington Post: Russian bounties to Taliban fighters believed to result in deaths of US troops, intelligence assessments show". CNN. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  9. ^ Rai, Manish. "U.S.-Taliban Deal: India should Chalk-out a New Strategy". OpedColumn.News.Blog.
  10. ^ George, Susannah (February 29, 2020). "U.S. signs peace deal with Taliban agreeing to full withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan". The Washington Post.
  11. ^ "Trump says 'it is time' for US troops to exit Afghanistan, undermining agreement with Taliban". ABC News. May 27, 2020.
  12. ^ "Outrage mounts over report Russia offered bounties to Afghanistan militants for killing US soldiers". The Guardian. June 27, 2020. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  13. ^ Savage, Charlie; Schmitt, Eric; Fandos, Nicholas; Goldman, Adam (June 29, 2020). "Trump Got Written Briefing in February on Possible Russian Bounties, Officials Say". The New York Times. Retrieved June 30, 2020.
  14. ^ "False US reports about Russia in Afghanistan led to threats against diplomats — embassy". TASS. June 27, 2020.
  15. ^ a b Bowder, John (June 28, 2020). "Intelligence suggests Russian bounties led to deaths of several US troops in Afghanistan: report". The Hill. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  16. ^ McCarthy, Tom (June 29, 2020). "Trump: I was not told about 'Russian bounties' plot because it was not credible". The Guardian. London. Retrieved June 29, 2020.
  17. ^ "'No consensus' in intelligence community over Russia bounty on U.S. troops report, White House says". USA Today. June 29, 2020.
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