U.S. intelligence has concluded that the Russian military offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants in Afghanistan to kill American troops and other coalition forces, the New York Times reported on Friday, citing officials briefed on the matter.
A Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for successful attacks last year, according to the newspaper. It said Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money.
“This primitive informational dump clearly demonstrates low intellectual abilities of the propagandists at the American intelligence service,” Russia’s foreign ministry said in a statement cited by the RIA news agency.
The White House, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence denied the report.
President Donald Trump has been briefed on the intelligence finding, the Times said. The White House has yet to authorize any steps against Russia in response to the bounties, it added.
However, President Trump said on Sunday that he was never briefed about the reported intelligence finding, blasting the New York Times report.
“Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians,” Trump tweeted, calling on the newspaper to name its anonymous source. “Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us.”
In a separate tweet late on Sunday, Trump added: “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP.”
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, part of the so-called Gang of Eight lawmakers who receive frequent intelligence briefings, said she was not aware of the assessment and called for Congress to be briefed.
Pelosi cited the New York Times’ reporting and Trump’s denial as more evidence of the president ignoring allegations against Russia to accommodate President Vladimir Putin.
“There is something very wrong here. But this must have an answer,” she said on ABC News, adding that Trump has already supported Putin by diminishing U.S. leadership in NATO, reducing U.S. forces in Germany and inviting Russia back into the G8.
Pelosi and House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff also questioned why, if Trump’s claims were true, he was not told about the bounty offer.
“If he was briefed and still wanted Russia back in the G-8, it’s even worse,” Schiff tweeted.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer urged tough sanctions against Russia in the defense bill that the Senate will debate this week.
“There’s obviously more to this story, but it is pretty remarkable the president’s going out of his way to say he hasn’t heard anything about it,” Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton told NBC News.
Of the 20 Americans killed in combat in 2019, it was not clear which deaths were under suspicion.
After nearly 20 years of fighting the Taliban, the U.S. is looking for a way to extricate itself from Afghanistan and to achieve peace between the U.S.-backed government and the militant group, which controls swathes of the country.
On February 29, the U.S. and the Taliban struck a deal that called for a phased withdrawal of American troops.
U.S. troop strength in Afghanistan is down to nearly 8,600, well ahead of a schedule agreed with the Taliban, in part because of concerns about the spread of coronavirus, U.S. and NATO officials said in late May.