The drip-drip-drip of evidence that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban for killing U.S. troops in Afghanistan became a torrent on Tuesday afternoon.
“American officials intercepted electronic data showing large financial transfers from a bank account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency [the GRU] to a Taliban-linked account,” the New York Times reported, citing “three officials familiar with the intelligence.”
The data intercepts align with information from fighters and others detained in Afghanistan, who apparently were among the first to describe the bounty plot to U.S. interrogators.
Investigators “identified by name numerous Afghans in a network linked to the suspected Russian operation … [including] a man believed to have served as an intermediary for distributing some of the funds and who is now thought to be in Russia.”
“The disclosures further undercut White House officials’ claim that the intelligence was too uncertain to brief President Trump. In fact, the information was provided to him in his daily written brief in late February,” the Times says, citing two unnamed officials.
White House and National Security Council officials declined to comment, the Times says, sticking with earlier statements that the Russian-Taliban bounty deal is unsubstantiated.
Combat-related American deaths did increase last year in Afghanistan; a total of 20 service members were killed, the most since 2014.
House Democrats who got a White House briefing on the bounty plot Tuesday morning said the idea that Russia putting bounties on American troops is deeply troubling and demands action.
But there’s been no action, or even verbal protests, from President Trump, who calls the whole thing a “hoax.”
Two former Afghan officials who spoke with the Times say the Taliban are known to hire criminals who attack Americans “not because they share the Taliban’s ideology or goals, but in exchange for money.”
American forces and the Afghan intelligence agency carried out raids a few months ago, a provincial official told the Times, arresting 13 people, at least some of whom were businessmen who transfer money informally, without going through banks.
“Two of the main targets of the raid had already fled — one to Tajikistan and one to Russia … but it was in the Kabul home of one of them where security forces found a half-million dollars in cash. The provincial official told the Times he learned from Afghan intelligence that the raids were related to “Russian money being dispersed to militants.”