WASHINGTON, D.C. — Russian bounty offers to Taliban militants are believed to have led to the death of at least one U.S. soldier in Afghanistan, according to American intelligence, two newspapers reported, and Congress on Monday demanded more information about the reports.
The Washington Post reported late on Sunday that several American soldiers are believed to have died as a result of the Russian program, which the Kremlin has denied and which President Donald Trump has said he was never briefed on.
The Post said the intelligence stemmed from U.S. military interrogations of captured militants and was passed up from U.S. Special Operations forces in Afghanistan.
Separately, the New York Times reported U.S. intelligence officials believe at least one American military death stemmed from the bounties, citing two officials briefed on the matter. Reuters could not immediately confirm the reports.
The newspaper articles drew outrage from Trump critics who argued it would have been unconscionable for the Republican president to have known of a Russian effort to kill American servicemen while seeking to improve relations with Moscow.
Trump sought to cast doubt on the Russian bounty effort, saying on Sunday he was never briefed on the matter and that U.S. intelligence officials told him it was because the information was not credible.
A report on the Russian program by the New York Times on Friday cited unnamed officials as saying the intelligence finding was briefed to Trump and the National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March.
The Kremlin on Monday flatly denied the bounty report.
“These allegations are lies,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, adding that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had never discussed the allegations.
The U.S. has in recent years accused Russia of possibly providing support, including weapons, to elements of the Taliban. But U.S. military officials have never publicly accused Moscow of putting bounties on the heads of U.S. soldiers or coalition forces.
Four U.S. government sources familiar with intelligence reporting and analysis confirmed to Reuters the existence of classified U.S. intelligence reports alleging that a Russian military intelligence unit had offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.
The sources indicated U.S. government agencies and experts on balance believed the intelligence reporting to be credible. The sources did not confirm Trump’s assertions that intelligence agencies had somehow declared the reporting was not credible.
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, both Democrats, on Monday demanded the top two U.S. intelligence officials provide an immediate briefing for lawmakers.
“Congress and the country need answers now. I therefore request an interagency brief for all House Members immediately,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA Director Gina Haspel.
White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany told Fox News that members of Congress would be briefed on the matter on Monday.
However, aides to congressional and committee leaders said no briefing had yet been scheduled.
The New York Times and the Associated Press also reported U.S. military and intelligence officials were reviewing past casualties to see whether they were tied to Moscow’s alleged payments.
One incident under review was an April 2019 attack by the Taliban on an American convoy that killed three U.S. Marines, the AP said, citing unidentified sources. Officials were also probing whether $500,000 found during a U.S. raid on a Taliban outpost earlier this year was tied to the program, it added.
Reuters could not immediately confirm these reports.