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Report: Iran paid Taliban bounties to kill US troops which contributed to Trump’s Soleimani airstrike decision

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin (Kremlin.ru/Released)
August 17, 2020

CNN has reported Monday that Iran paid bounties to Taliban fighters to target U.S. troops.

US intelligence officials said “Bounties” were paid by Iran to the Haqqani Network, a terrorist group led by high-ranking Taliban officials. The Iranian payments to the Haqqani may have been instrumental in a deadly Taliban rocket attack at Bagram Air Base on December 11, that killed two civilians and injured more than 70 others, including four US personnel

Intelligence officials further said the bounty reports formed part of the reasoning behind President Donald Trump’s order to carry out an airstrike against Iranian Quds Force Gen. Qassem Soleimani in January.

The bounty allegations came about amid a delicate moment in U.S.-Taliban peace talks. Trump had previously declared Taliban peace talks dead, but less than two weeks before the December attack on Bagram Air Base, Trump did tell U.S. troops during a visit to Afghanistan that he planned to resume peace talks with the Taliban.

The internal discussions about the bounty payments reportedly lasted for around three months amid the peace deliberations between the U.S. and the Taliban. The discussions reportedly ended in late March after a peace agreement was already underway between the U.S. and the Taliban. An internal memo obtained by CNN said the relationship between the Haqqani Network and Iran “poses a significant threat to US interests” but that National Security Council officials ultimately recommended against taking action to address the relationship.

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The Pentagon declined to comment on the specific Iran-Taliban allegations but did acknowledge Iranian efforts to undermine the U.S.-Taliban peace process and overall Iranian efforts to destabilize the Middle East.

“The administration has repeatedly demanded, both publicly and privately, that Iran cease its scourge of malign and destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East and the world,” Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. Rob Lodewick told CNN. “While the United States, its NATO allies and coalition partners are working to facilitate an end to 19 years of bloodshed, Iran’s inimical influence seeks to undermine the Afghan peace process and foster a continuation of violence and instability.”

The report comes just weeks after similar allegations Russia’s GRU intelligence service has also paid bounties for Taliban fighters to attack U.S. troops in Afghanistan. The Russian bounty allegations also raised controversial claims Trump was warned about the bounties but declined to take action against Russia or the Taliban. Separately, Pentagon officials have said the Russian bounty allegations had not been corroborated.

U.S. military officials have previously accused Iran’s military and Soleimani in particular of proliferating aid to terror groups in attacking U.S. forces. In April of 2019, the Trump administration did designate the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the parent military branch of the Quds Force, as a terrorist group based on its sponsorship of terrorist activities throughout the Middle East.

Reacting to Soleimani’s killing January, retired U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus also said Soleimani was “responsible for providing explosives, projectiles, and arms and other munitions that killed well over 600 American soldiers and many more of our coalition and Iraqi partners just in Iraq, as well as in many other countries such as Syria.”