Both Democrats and Republicans in the United States Congress on Monday demanded immediate answers from the administration of President Donald Trump after media outlets reported that US intelligence agencies have tied Russian reward offers to Taliban fighters directly to the deaths of US soldiers.
It was unclear how many American or coalition troops may have been targeted or killed under the Russian programme, according to a report in the Washington Post, but the intelligence stemmed from US military interrogations of captured fighters 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 rewards, citing two officials briefed on the matter.
The reports drew outrage from Trump critics who argued it was unconscionable for him to have known of a Russian effort to kill US servicemen while seeking to improve relations with Moscow.
Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP. Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad!!! https://t.co/cowOmP7T1S— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2020
Trump sought to cast doubt on the Russian reward effort, saying on Sunday he was never briefed on the matter and that US intelligence officials told him this was because the information was not credible.'Lies'
The Kremlin on Monday also denied the report, first published by the New York Times on Friday, that Russian forces had offered to pay Taliban-linked fighters to kill American 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.
Two US government sources familiar with intelligence reporting and analysis confirmed to the Reuters News Agency the existence of classified US intelligence reports alleging the rewards. The sources indicated US government agencies and experts on balance believed the intelligence reporting to be credible.
I'm calling for an immediate briefing from the Directors of National Intelligence and the CIA for all 100 Senators on reports that Russia placed bounties on US Troops in Afghanistan.
We also need to know whether or not President Trump was told this information, and if so, when.— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) June 29, 2020
Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi wrote to the top two US intelligence officials on Monday and sought an immediate briefing for legislators.
"Congress and the country need answers now. I therefore request an interagency brief for all House Members immediately," Pelosi wrote in a letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel.
Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the Number 3 Republican in the House, called on the White House to share more information with Congress, saying, if true, legislators need to know: "Who did know and when?" and, referring to Russian leader Vladimir Putin: "What has been done in response to protect our forces & hold Putin accountable?"
Democratic presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden said reports Trump was aware of the Russian rewards would be a "truly shocking revelation" about the commander in chief.
Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region. https://t.co/dm4QWATzgg— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) June 27, 2020
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News members of Congress would be briefed on the matter on Monday.
The New York Times and the Associated Press news agency 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 $500,000 found during a US raid on a Taliban outpost earlier this year was tied to the programme, it added.