Russian GRU unit paid bounties to Afghan militants for killing U.S. troops

A Russian GRU unit connected to assassinations around the world, including the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the UK, also offered bounties to Afghan militants for killing U.S. troops. The NY Times reports that the information was gathered from captured Afghan soldiers and was presented to the White House a few months ago:

Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.

The intelligence finding was briefed to President Trump, and the White House’s National Security Council discussed the problem at an interagency meeting in late March, the officials said. Officials developed a menu of potential options — starting with making a diplomatic complaint to Moscow and a demand that it stop, along with an escalating series of sanctions and other possible responses, but the White House has yet to authorize any step, the officials said…

The officials briefed on the matter said the government had assessed the operation to be the handiwork of Unit 29155, an arm of Russia’s military intelligence agency, known widely as the G.R.U. The unit is linked to the March 2018 nerve agent poisoning in Salisbury, England, of Sergei Skripal, a former G.R.U. officer who had worked for British intelligence and then defected, and his daughter.

There’s a paragraph in the Times’ story suggesting that our intelligence agencies are uncertain how high the decision-making behind this bounty program goes. In other words, maybe Putin didn’t know this was happening. I’ll just point out that a previous Business Insider story about Unit 29155 labeled it “Putin’s assassination squad.

Members of Unit 29155 have been accused in attempted or successful assassinations in the UK, Germany, and Bulgaria. They are also suspected of politically destabilizing activities in Montenegro, Spain and Moldova. The unit is believed to be the home of an elite unit of former Russain special forces members tasked with eliminating Russia’s enemies abroad and was specifically implicated in two poisonings — of a Bulgarian arms dealer in 2015 and in the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal, a former GRU officer who defected to the UK, in Salisbury.

The idea that Putin didn’t order these bounties on U.S. soldiers doesn’t seem to match with the fact that Putin personally proclaimed the innocence of the two GRU goons who attempted to murder Sergei Skripal. After that assassination attempt, President Trump ordered 60 Russian “diplomats” out of the U.S. A subsequent report from CNN indicated that some of those individuals had been stalking Russian defectors here in the U.S. and were possibly planning to carry out similar assassinations attempts here.

Last December, France’s Le Monde newspaper reported that the two men responsible for the Skripal assassination attempt had been “operating out of picturesque villages in the French Alps.”

In 2017, Buzzfeed reported the GRU had carried out more than a dozen assassinations on British soil. The idea that Putin didn’t know about all of this activity is absurd. If Unit 29155 was offering bounties to Afghan militants to kill U.S. soldiers they were doing it with Putin’s permission.

It remains unclear how many U.S. deaths in Afghanistan are connected to this, but our intelligence has concluded at least some bounty money was paid out by Russian agents.