A Russian military unit secretly sought to offer rewards to Taliban-linked militants to incentivize them to hunt and kill coalition forces in Afghanistan as the Trump administration engaged in peace talks to end the nearly two-decade long war, U.S. intelligence officials have reportedly concluded.
The New York Times, citing officials briefed on the matter, reported Friday 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.
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 newspaper reported.
President 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.
Some officials theorized the efforts could be to destabilize the West or take revenge for pro-Syria forces being killed when advancing on an American outpost in 2018, or keep the U.S. tied up in a war in Afghanistan by thwarting peace talks, according to the Times.
Still, such actions would mark a major escalation of Russian support of the Taliban and an attempt to turn violence onto coalition forces.
It would also mark an escalation of Russia’s actions toward the U.S., following its efforts to sow discord during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, during which the Kremlin used disinformation campaigns on social media platforms and cyberattacks to amplify an already divisive race.
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