Washington – 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, The Times said the United States determined months ago that a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for successful attacks last year.
The purported bounties gave incentives to the guerrillas to target U.S. forces, just as President Donald Trump tries to withdraw troops and end America’s longest war.
The newspaper, citing anonymous officials, said that Trump was briefed on the findings in March, but has not decided how to respond.
The White House, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined requests for comment on The Times report.
It said that militants were believed to have collected bounty money, but that it was unclear whether specific killings of U.S. troops were under suspicion.
The newspaper quoted a Kremlin spokesman saying only that Russia was unaware of the accusations.
Russia has a tortured history in Afghanistan, where the former Soviet Union in its final years was bogged down in a devastating fight against Islamic guerrillas, then backed by Washington.
But Russia has more recently been accused by the United States of quietly providing small arms to the Taliban.
The New York Times said there were different theories on why Russia would support Taliban attacks, including a desire to keep the United States bogged down in war.
It said that the Russian unit may also be seeking revenge over the U.S. killing of Russian mercenaries in Syria, where Moscow backs President Bashar Assad.
After nearly 20 years of fighting the Taliban, the United States 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 Feb. 29, the United States and the Taliban struck a deal that called for a phased U.S. troop withdrawal.
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 the coronavirus, U.S. and NATO officials said in late May.