Months after an unsubstantiated claim about Russia paying bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops spread like wildfire, a similar claim about China is being reported by Axios.
The Axios report published on Wednesday cites two unnamed Trump administration officials. According to the officials, the Trump administration is declassifying “uncorroborated intelligence” that “indicates China offered to pay non-state actors in Afghanistan to attack American soldiers.”
The report says President Trump was verbally briefed on the uncorroborated intelligence by National Security Robert O’Brien, and officials across all agencies are working to “corroborate” the intelligence.
There are few details in the report of what the uncorroborated intelligence actually says. Axios was unable to see any of the intelligence reports and received the information from sources in a phone call.
One source said: “The US has evidence that the PRC [People’s Republic of China] attempted to finance attacks on American servicemen by Afghan non-state actors by offering financial incentives or ‘bounties.'” The sources did not say if the “non-state” actors included the Taliban or not.
The only info Axios could get was that the alleged bounty scheme happened sometime after the US-Taliban peace deal was signed in February. Since the deal was signed on February 29th, no US troops have been killed in combat-related incidents in Afghanistan.
China, like Russia, welcomed the US-Taliban peace deal, and attempted to salvage negotiations for the agreement when they faltered. In September 2019, after US-Taliban talks collapsed, Beijing hosted a Taliban delegation, and Chinese officials expressed their view of the negotiations. A Chinese envoy told the Taliban that “the US-Taliban deal is a good framework for the peaceful solution of the Afghan issue.”
The deal paves the way for a complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan by Spring 2021, something China has an interest in being fulfilled. But the deal hinges on a reduction of violence. Incentivizing “non-state” actors, whether they are the Taliban or not, to kill US troops could sabotage the entire process.
Declassifying raw, uncorroborated intelligence could be President Trump’s way of getting back at the US officials who leaked the unsubstantiated Russia bounty story. After the story made its rounds in the media, military leaders said there was no evidence to corroborate the claim that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill US troops.
Despite the lack of evidence to support the Russia bounty story, President Trump is still criticized to this day for not holding Russia accountable for what appear to be non-existent bounties. Trump also likes to deflect unsubstantiated claims about Russia to China, who he and his close advisors claim is the preeminent threat to the US.
Not long after the Axios report was published, an unnamed US official told Politico that the intelligence about the Chinese bounties is “very thin,” describing it as “rumors.” The official said it was even thinner than reports about the alleged Russian bounties, which the official said were “never corroborated.”