A contractor paid by the American-led coalition to build roads in Afghanistan was also a middleman who passed out money from a Russian spy agency to Taliban-linked militants after they killed U.S. troops, U.S. and Afghan officials told The New York Times.
Rahmatullah Azizi's name has appeared in U.S. intelligence reports about the alleged Russian bounty program, the Times reports, and he went to Russia multiple times to collect "hundreds of thousands of dollars." Afghan officials told the Times payments of up to $100,000 per killed soldier were offered to the Taliban-linked militants for U.S. and coalition targets.
Azizi, said to be in his 40s, is a former small-time drug smuggler. Several of his friends and neighbors told the Times that in recent years, Azizi started to flaunt his wealth, purchasing a four-story villa and traveling with bodyguards, but they had no idea how he made his money. An Afghan official confirmed he was the target of a raid six months ago; several of his associates and relatives were arrested, but he slipped out of Afghanistan and is likely in Russia. At his house in Kabul, authorities found half a million dollars in cash.
For years, U.S. and Afghan officials have maintained that Russia was secretly trying to undermine the U.S. in Afghanistan by helping the Taliban. In 2019, the U.S. concluded that Russia was sending bounty money to the Taliban at the same time the United States was negotiating with the militants over withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, the Times reports, and some of the attacks believed to be linked to the plot were carried out when the Trump administration was asking Russia to participate in the peace talks.
Russia and the Taliban have denied the existence of the covert bounty scheme, and President Trump and the White House have claimed that multiple reports that he was briefed on the matter are false.