This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. President Donald Trump should consider imposing new economic sanctions on Russia if reports alleging that Moscow paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan are true, Democrats who were briefed on the matter said.
House of Representatives Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (Democrat-California), speaking after the briefing on June 30, added his voice to those saying Trump should weigh action against Moscow.
“We should be considering what sanctions are appropriate to further deter Russia’s malign activities,” he said.
Representative Mikie Sherrill (Democrat-New Jersey) a former navy helicopter pilot and Russia policy officer, called the allegations “very concerning.” If they are true, she added, “Russia is going to face repercussions.”
Senate Republicans who attended a separate briefing the day before also said there ought to be consequences for Russia, if the reports are true, but stressed that an ongoing review should take place before any retaliatory actions are taken.
Trump has been under mounting pressure over the report, which first appeared in The New York Times based on multiple unidentified sources with knowledge of the matter. The report said the bounty program was in place as U.S. and Taliban negotiators held talks aimed at ending the Afghan conflict.
Trump initially said he was not briefed on the matter, with his spokeswoman explaining on June 29 that the intelligence had not been verified and there was no consensus in the intelligence community that the bounty claims were true.
But on June 30 White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Trump was not “personally” briefed and did not address whether Trump had received a written report about the alleged offer of bounties.
The New York Times reported that officials gave Trump a written briefing in late February laying out their conclusions, citing two unidentified officials as its sources.
Democrats and some Republicans are questioning whether Trump read the written report and, if he did why he had not responded more aggressively.
The Times previously reported that the National Security Council held an interagency meeting in late March to discuss possible responses after U.S. intelligence officers and special forces in Afghanistan began raising the alarm as early as January — but the White House didn’t authorize any action.
The New York Times reported on June 30 that U.S. officials had intercepted data showing large transfers of money from an account controlled by Russia’s military intelligence agency to a Taliban-linked account.
It said this was further evidence that a bounty program had been established. The newspaper cited three officials familiar with the intelligence as its sources.
Russia and the Taliban have denied the existence of any offer of bounties to kill U.S. troops.
The Washington Post reported on June 28 that the bounties are believed to have resulted in the death of several U.S. service members in Afghanistan. The New York Times separately reported that U.S. intelligence officials believe at least one U.S. military death was linked to the alleged payments.