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Rep. Smith, House Armed Services Chair demands answers on Russia bounty reports

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), Ranking Member, House Armed Services Committee. (New America/Flickr)
June 30, 2020

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, raised a number of questions about whether President Donald Trump knew about intelligence reports that Russia has been paying bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops.

“Recent reports that a Russian military intelligence unit paid the Taliban to attack Americans and coalition partners are deeply concerning,” Smith said in a Monday press release. “The U.S. intelligence community reportedly informed the Trump administration of this assessment as early as late March.”

“Acting on this information could have saved lives. Yet, President Trump claims he had no prior knowledge of the bounties that Russia placed on American soldiers. That excuse only gives rise to more questions,” Smith said. “Why didn’t the President receive a briefing on such a highly sensitive subject? Was this information included in the Presidential Daily briefing? If not, why not? Was this information shared with our military leaders?”

Smith’s statement comes after a Friday report by The New York Times in which anonymous sources said U.S. intelligence officials had uncovered efforts by Russia’s GRU intelligence service to pay bounties to Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Intelligence officials who spoke with The Times further indicated Trump was informed of the Russian plot during at an interagency meeting in late March.

“Those who serve our country in a combat zone voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way. We must do everything we can to support them,” Smith’s statement continued. “If the reports are true, that the Administration knew about this Russian operation and did nothing, they have broken the trust of those who serve and the commitment to their families to ensure their loved one’s safety.”

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Smith concluded his statement with a call for the Department of Defense to provide answers to his questions. Smith suggested a congressional effort to determine which members of Trump’s administration may be accountable, along with the Russian government.

“It is imperative that the House Armed Services Committee receive detailed answers from the Department of Defense. The American people – and our service members – deserve to know the truth about what the White House knew about these Russian operations that may have directly resulted in the deaths of American service members,” Smith said. “We must find out exactly what was known, and when it was known, to hold the appropriate Administration officials and the Russian government accountable.”

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee also joined Smith’s call on Monday for a briefing on the allegations, but said the committee have yet to finalize a date to receive the briefing.

Trump has denied claims he knew about the reports Russia was offering bounties on U.S. troops and both the current Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and former DNI Richard Grenell have backed Trump’s claim.

On Monday, the Department of Defense issued a statement indicating they had “no corroborating evidence to validate” the claims about Russia’s bounty practices.

Four U.S. service members have been killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2020, according to a recently updated Congressional Research Service report. Two U.S. Army paratroopers were killed in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in January and two more Army Green Berets were killed in February, in what may have been an insider attack.

Combat operations involving U.S. forces have wound down in recent months after the U.S. entered into a peace agreement with the Taliban at the end of February. The Taliban has continued to target Afghan government forces, and the U.S. has launched defensive strikes to divert Taliban attacks away from Afghan forces. There have been no U.S. combat deaths in the country since February.