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American intelligence officials have informed President Trump that they believe Russia's military intelligence agency has secretly been offering bounties to Taliban or Taliban-linked militants for the killing of American troops in Afghanistan, according to an explosive Friday report in The New York Times. Trump was first briefed on the findings in late March, although he has not yet acted on the "menu of potential options" that were presented to him, and which included potentially issuing a domestic complaint to Russia or imposing sanctions.
The Times reports that Islamist militants (or groups associated with them) are believed to have actually collected such bounty money from Russia, although it's not clear which American deaths, or how many, are suspected.
Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, is thought to be behind the alleged bounties. The GRU has previously been tied to the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain, as well as to "finding" Hillary Clinton's "missing" emails after Trump famously asked Russia to do so while on the campaign trail in July 2016.
"Any involvement with the Taliban that resulted in the deaths of American troops would … be a huge escalation of Russia's so-called hybrid war against the United States, a strategy of destabilizing adversaries through a combination of such tactics as cyberattacks, the spread of fake news, and covert and deniable military operations," writes The New York Times. It would also be "the first time the Russian spy unit was known to have orchestrated attacks on Western troops."
Additionally, while officials were described as being "confident" about their findings, it's less clear what Russia's intentions are. "Some officials have theorized that the Russians may be seeking revenge on NATO forces for a 2018 battle in Syria in which the American military killed several hundred pro-Syrian forces, including numerous Russian mercenaries, as they advanced on an American outpost," the Times writes. Read more about the U.S. intelligence findings here.