While we’re still not sure if US President Donald Trump was briefed on an alleged Russian bounty on US troops, it appears their NATO allies were well aware.
Belgium’s spy services say they were aware of financial rewards that Russia allegedly offered to the Taliban in exchange for killing American and other Western troops in Afghanistan, according to Belgium’s defense minister, Intelnews.org reported.
Late last month, three leading American newspapers, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal alleged that the White House had been briefed about an alleged Russian bounty program that was in existence in Afghanistan.
According to the allegations, the Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces, known as GRU, had offered Taliban fighters financial rewards in exchange for killing American and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) troops, the report said.
Both the White House and the Kremlin denied the allegations, with President Trump dismissing them as “fake news” and “a hoax.”
Philippe Goffin, who serves as Belgium’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Minister of Defense, told the Belgian Federal Parliament that his office was aware of the Russian bounty program allegedly offered by the shadowy group, known as Unit 29155, the report said.
The elite unit inside the Russian intelligence system is skilled in subversion, sabotage and assassination — a modern day SMERSH.
While sometimes leaving a messy trail in its wake, the ruthless unit almost always hits its target, all the while defended and denied by the cold, Beria-esque smile of Vladimir Putin.
Its operations are so secret, according to assessments by Western intelligence services, that the unit’s existence is most likely unknown even to other GRU operatives, the New York Times reported.
The minister was speaking before the parliament’s Committee on National Defense, where he responded to questions from committee members.
According to Goffin, he had been briefed on the matter by the General Intelligence and Security Service (SGRS), Belgium’s military intelligence organization.
He said the SGRS was “aware of Russian support for the Taliban in Afghanistan” and offered evidence that “confirmed Russian interference there,” the report said.
He added that the Belgian intelligence services had linked “only one incident” to the Russian bounty program. It had occurred in April of 2019, and had resulted in the deaths of three American soldiers, he said.
According to CNN, the top US general overseeing operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan said earlier this month that the intelligence concerning Russian operatives offering bounties to Taliban-linked militants was “very worrisome” but that the information wasn’t solid enough to hold up in a court of law.
General Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, also told reporters that he was not convinced that the Russian bounty program was directly responsible for the deaths of US personnel, the CNN report said.
“The intelligence wasn’t proved to me. It was proved enough to worry me. It wasn’t proved enough that I’d take it to a court of law. That’s often true in battlefield intelligence,” McKenzie said, according to a transcript provided by the Defense Department, the CNN report said.
“You see a lot of indicators. Many of them are troubling; many of them you act on. But in this case, there just wasn’t enough there. I sent the intelligence guys back to continue to dig on it. And I believe they’re continuing to dig right now,” he added.
McKenzie cautioned that the US “should always remember, the Russians are not our friends. They are not our friends. And they are not our friends in Afghanistan. And they do not wish us well.
“And we just need to remember that at all times when we evaluate that intelligence.”
Belgium participated in the NATO joint force in Afghanistan, but recalled its troops home in May due to the coronavirus pandemic, the report said.