Afghanistan war: Trump got written briefing on ‘Russia bounties’

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The White House is under pressure to explain how much the administration knew about allegations Russia offered the Taliban bounties to kill US troops.

Officials have insisted that President Donald Trump was not “personally” informed of the alleged plot in Afghanistan in 2019.

But reports say the president received a written briefing earlier this year.

There is concern that Mr Trump might have had access to information about threats to US forces but did not act.

The intelligence reportedly arrived amid US attempts to negotiate a peace deal to end the 19-year war in Afghanistan and while Mr Trump sought to improve relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Reports by the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, quoting unnamed US officials, said a Russian military intelligence unit had offered Taliban-linked militants bounties to kill US troops in Afghanistan.

Twenty American troops died in Afghanistan in 2019, but the New York Times said it was not clear which deaths were under suspicion.

Russia denied the initial reports, while the Taliban said it had not made any deal with government intelligence.

The allegations come as Mr Trump seeks re-election in November.

Moscow maintains close links with the Taliban, as it sees the US involvement in Afghanistan winding down, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus says.

He says Russia is also waging a “grey” or undeclared war against the West. Under President Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has smarted from every perceived indignity suffered since the fall of the Soviet Union. It was US support for Afghan irregular fighters that contributed to Moscow’s forced withdrawal from Afghanistan in the 1980s.

US soldiers look out over hillsides during a visit of the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan on 6 June 2019
Image captionTrump administration officials say the intelligence assessment was not conclusive

Pressed on the bounty claims, the White House spokeswoman on Tuesday insisted that Mr Trump was not briefed on the matter and claimed that “rogue intelligence officers” were behind the leak to the New York Times.

Asked to clarify if she meant members of the US intelligence community were going after the president, Kayleigh McEnany said: “It very possibly could be.”

What are the new developments?

On Monday, the New York Times, citing two unnamed US officials, said the intelligence assessment had been included in the President’s Daily Brief report – a written document with key government intelligence – in late February.

CNN and the Associated Press have also reported that the president received the intelligence in a written briefing earlier this year, without specifying when. Mr Trump is said to largely ignore the President’s Daily Brief, relying more on oral briefings by intelligence officials a few times a week.

Ms McEnany said there was “no consensus within the intelligence community” about the assessment. But former intelligence officials told US media that, in previous administrations, claims of such importance would be reported to the president, even if the evidence had not been fully established.

She also defended Mr Trump when questioned whether the president reads his intelligence reports, saying he “does read and also consumes intelligence verbally”.

“This president I’ll tell you is the most informed person on planet earth when it comes to the threats that we face,” she said.

U.S. President Donald Trump listens during a meeting of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board
Image captionTrump administration officials say the president was not “personally briefed”

Eight Republican members of Congress attended a White House briefing led by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien on Monday.

Some expressed alarm about the claims, calling for action against Russia and President Putin to be taken if the intelligence reports, currently under review, were confirmed.

Representatives Liz Cheney and Mac Thornberry, who is the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said: “We believe it is important to vigorously pursue any information related to Russia or any other country targeting our forces.”

Democrats were not included in the initial meeting, and they have been scheduled to take part in a briefing with White House officials on Tuesday.

The Associated Press reported that top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of the classified intelligence on the topic, and that the assessment had been included in at least one of President Trump’s written daily briefings at the time.

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