House Armed Services leaders demand briefing on reported Russian bounties on US troops

House Armed Services leaders demand briefing on reported Russian bounties on US troops
© Greg Nash

The leaders of the House Armed Services Committee have demanded a briefing this week on reported intelligence assessments that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, the panel’s top Republican said Monday.

Stressing that he has not seen the intelligence, committee ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryRussian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide House panel approves 0.5B defense policy bill House Armed Services votes to make Pentagon rename Confederate-named bases in a year MORE (R-Texas) told reporters that he and committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithThe robbing of a wildlife refuge in Nevada House panel votes against curtailing Insurrection Act powers after heated debate Overnight Defense: House panel votes to ban Confederate flag on all Pentagon property | DOD report says Russia working to speed US withdrawal from Afghanistan | 'Gang of Eight' to get briefing on bounties Thursday MORE (D-Wash.) over the weekend “insisted on a briefing from [the Department of Defense] on the intelligence immediately, early this week.”

“When you're dealing with the lives of our service members, especially in Afghanistan, especially these allegations that there were bounties put on American deaths, then it is incredibly serious, and we in Congress need to see the information and the sources to judge that ourselves, and it needs to happen early this week,” Thornberry told reporters in a conference call.

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“It will not be acceptable to delay, so we've asked for the full Armed Services Committee to get this briefing, either today or tomorrow,” he added. “We've made this request over the weekend, and so far we've not gotten a response.”

In a statement, a Democratic committee spokesperson added that Smith is “deeply concerned” about the reports that a Russian spy operation targeted U.S. troops.

“He and Ranking Member Thornberry have demanded a briefing to get a full accounting of what the White House knew about these Russian operations and when, in order to hold the appropriate administration officials and the Russian government accountable,” the spokesperson said. “At present, a briefing has not been scheduled.”

The New York Times first reported Friday, followed by several other news outlets, that the intelligence community concluded months ago that the Russian intelligence unit commonly known as the GRU secretly offered payments to Taliban-linked militants for successful attacks on coalition forces in Afghanistan last year.

The newspaper reported that Trump had been briefed on the intelligence and that officials had deliberated potential response options but that the White House had not authorized any further action.

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The Washington Post then reported Sunday that intelligence assessments concluded the Russian bounties led to the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Shortly after the Post’s story, Trump claimed in a tweet that the intelligence was deemed not credible and he was therefore not briefed on it. Neither the White House nor the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have addressed the credibility of the intelligence as described, but have disputed the Times’s account that Trump was briefed on the information.

Lawmakers in both parties have demanded more information, including the No. 3 House Republican and prominent defense voice, Rep. Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneySome in Congress want to keep sending our troops to Afghanistan Biggs, Massie call on Trump to remove troops from Afghanistan Russian bounties revive Trump-GOP foreign policy divide MORE (Wyo.).

Thornberry told reporters the bipartisan “insistence to see the intelligence” is “even stronger non-publicly” than it has been publicly.

Russia has been accused of supporting the Taliban in the past by providing weapons to the insurgents. But Thornberry called the latest allegation a “different level.”

“It is so egregious that, in my view, if there were a hint of credibility to it, then you need to bring it to the president's attention, and there needs to be a plan on what you're going to do about it,” he said.

If Trump was, in fact, not briefed on the information, Thornberry suggested people should be fired.

“Depending on those answers, it may be appropriate for people who should have briefed the president to be removed if they did not follow their responsibilities,” he said.