A Russian military intelligence agency offered bounties to militants in Afghanistan to kill U.S. soldiers and other NATO troops and the White House has known about it since March.
Citing U.S. officials briefed on the intelligence, an explosive report published by the New York Times on Friday alleges American intelligence officials informed President Trump that Russia secretly offered and paid Taliban-linked militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan. The report claims as many as 20 U.S. soldiers were killed in 2019, though it's not clear how many were linked to the Russian bounties.
Act of Revenge?
According to the Times, there is a theory that suggests the Russians are paying to kill American soldiers as payback for a 2018 battle in Syria in which the American military killed several hundred pro-Syrian forces, including numerous Russian mercenaries, as they advanced on an American outpost.
U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson, the former top commander in Afghanistan, had previously accused Russians of supplying weapons to Taliban in 2018. However, the Russian embassy in Kabul responded by calling it "absolutely baseless."
Trump Has Known Since March
President Donald Trump was first briefed on the findings in late March, but he has not yet acted on the "menu of potential options" that were presented to him. One of the options was to issue a domestic complaint to Russia or impose sanctions.
The Russian military intelligence agency, the GRU, is believed to be behind the alleged bounties. The GRU has previously been linked to the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain, as well as tipping the scale of the U.S. elections against Hillary Clinton with a state-authorized campaign of cyber-attacks and fake news stories circulated on social media after Trump famously asked Russia to do so during his campaign trail in July 2016.
The report comes as Trump faces criticism over his muted response to Russian interference in his election campaign. At a 2018 summit in Helsinki, Trump contradicted its own intelligence agencies' claim that Russia was meddling in the U.S. elections.
A February meeting between House lawmakers and Joseph Maguire, the former acting director of national intelligence, regarding Russia's intent to aid Trump in the 2020 election angered the president and seemingly caused him to appoint Richard Grenell to direct the agency instead.
Despite knowing about Russian bounties on American soldiers, Trump has been urging the G-7 member states to include Russia in its expanded list of countries, saying it's "common sense" to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to the gathering to represent Moscow.
The bombshell New York Times report has caused the hashtag #TraitorTrump to trend on Twitter with many accusing the President of treason and criticizing him for his failure to act on the intelligence report as well as his deference towards Russia. Here are some of the tweets: