US intelligence shows Russian bounties led to US troop deaths

A wreckage of a US military aircraft that crashed in Ghazni province, Afghanistan, on Jan 27. (AP pic)

WASHINGTON: US intelligence agencies found that Russian bounty offers to Taliban militants led to the deaths of several American soldiers, the Washington Post reported, as President Donald Trump sought to cast doubt on the information.

It was unclear how many US or coalition troops may have been targeted or killed under the Moscow programme, the Post said late Sunday, but the intelligence stemmed from US military interrogations of captured militants and was passed up from US Special Operations forces in Afghanistan.

The New York Times separately reported that US intelligence officials believe at least one American military death stemmed from the bounties, citing two officials briefed on the matter. Reuters could not immediately confirm the reports.

Trump early on Sunday said he was never briefed on the Russian bounty effort reported by the New York Times.

As the report drew concerns even among his fellow Republicans, Trump later said intelligence officials told him he was not briefed because the information was not credible.

The Kremlin on Monday denied the bounty report, first published by the New York Times on Friday, that Russian forces had offered to pay Taliban-linked militants to kill US and other Western soldiers in Afghanistan.

“These allegations are lies,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had never discussed the allegations.

Reports of the bounties triggered a furore in Congress, as both Republicans and Democrats demanded answers from the Trump administration.

The White House and the director of national intelligence over the weekend denied Trump was briefed but did not address the merits of the intelligence.

US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday called for lawmakers to be briefed on the matter.

The Associated Press reported that the Trump administration would brief some members of Congress on Monday.

The New York Times and the AP also reported US military and intelligence officials were reviewing past casualties to see whether they were tied to Moscow’s alleged payments.

One incident under review was an April 2019 attack by the Taliban on an American convoy that killed three US Marines, the AP said, citing unidentified sources.

Officials were also probing whether US$500,000 found during a US raid on a Taliban outpost earlier this year was tied to the programme, it added.