- Iran paid bounties to the Taliban to target US troops, according to a US intelligence assessment first reported on by CNN.
- The suspected bounty plot was reportedly cited by US officials as part of the justification for the drone strike that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
- The Trump administration decided against taking a more explicit action over the alleged Iranian bounty plot in order to shield ongoing, tenuous peace talks with the Taliban.
- The CNN report comes after the Trump administration has faced questioning and pressure in recent weeks over reports that Russia also paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to target US troops.
- President Donald Trump has downplayed the Russian bounty reports, and the Trump administration has not taken any known actions in response.
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US intelligence agencies determined that Iran paid bounties to the Taliban to target US troops and coalition forces in Afghanistan, CNN’s Zachary Cohen reported on Monday.
The intelligence agencies identified payments linked to six attacks carried out by the Taliban in 2019, including a deadly suicide bombing at Bagram Air Base in December. The bombing killed two civilians and injured dozens, including four US personnel.
Bounties were paid by a foreign government to the Haqqani network, whose leader is the deputy head of the Afghan Taliban, for the Bagram attack, according to a Pentagon briefing document reviewed by CNN.
Two sources familiar with the intelligence told CNN that the foreign government referenced in the document is Iran.
In early January, President Donald Trump ordered a drone strike that killed Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, in Iraq. The deadly strike came less than a month after the Bagram attack and after US agencies engaged in what CNN described as a lengthy process to develop options to counter Iran’s monetary support for militant groups in Afghanistan.
The suspected Iranian bounty plot was cited by US officials as a partial justification for the Soleimani strike, a current administration official and former senior official with knowledge of the situation told CNN.
In March, the Trump administration decided that amid ongoing, tenuous peace talks with the Taliban it was not the right time to take a more specific action in response to the alleged Iranian bounty plot, multiple sources told CNN.
The Trump administration has not spoken publicly about the intelligence or condemned Iran over the alleged bounties in an apparent effort to shield the peace talks. Trump has repeatedly vowed to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan but has yet to accomplish that goal with the 2020 election less than three months away.
“We’ve seen the media reports and do not comment on intelligence matters,” National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot told Insider in response to a request for comment.
“President Trump has been tougher than any other President on Iran and will continue to hold the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism accountable,” Ullyot added. “Rest assured when it comes to the protection of our troops overseas, this President will always act swiftly and decisively to do everything within his power to ensure their safety.”
Iran is not the first US adversary to be accused of paying the Taliban to go after US troops.
The New York Times in late June reported that US intelligence agencies had assessed that Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to target US troops in Afghanistan.
The Trump administration has not taken any known responses to the alleged Russian bounties.
Trump has dismissed the reports on the suspected Russian bounty plot as “fake news,” though the White House in early July said the president had by that time been “fully briefed” on the matter. Previously, the administration said Trump had never been briefed on the intel, though recent reporting contradicts this assertion and suggests he may have been informed as early as March 2019.
There’s also an ongoing US intelligence investigation into the matter.
The president in late July said he did not confront Russian President Vladimir Putin about the alleged payments to the Taliban-linked militants during their first phone call since reports on the suspected bounty plot emerged.