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American forces and Afghan commandos patrol near the site of a U.S. bombing in Jalalabad, Afghanistan American forces and Afghan commandos patrol Pandola village, near the site of a U.S. bombing, in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, April 2014 (AP photo by Rahmat Gul).

What Would a U.S. Response to Russian Bounties in Afghanistan Look Like?

Friday, July 10, 2020

With public pressure growing on the Trump administration to take action in response to the reported Russian scheme to pay bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan, a natural question to ask is, “What is to be done?” Much of the congressional attention for now will inevitably focus on who in the White House knew what and when about intelligence on the Russian plot. But the reality is that Washington has a limited range of policy options to manage an escalation of tensions with Moscow, and this Congress isn’t likely to do much months before an election.

Congress this week held the first of what is likely to be many hearings in the coming months on the credibility of the intelligence and reporting that Russia’s military intelligence agency, the GRU, apparently paid upward of $100,000 to fighters tied to the Taliban to target American and coalition soldiers. While the intelligence on the existence of a bounty program appears to be well founded, there are reasons to be skeptical of any causal claims linking Russian payments to American casualties in Afghanistan. As Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command and military operations in South Asia and the Middle East, pointed out in an interview this week, intelligence always comes with caveats and uncertainties that make it difficult to connect one action to another event. ...

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