President Donald Trump was briefed earlier this month on unconfirmed intelligence that the Chinese government has paid bounties to “non-state actors” in Afghanistan to target U.S. service members, according to a report from Axios.
Axios also reported that the Trump administration is declassifying the intelligence, which was briefed to Trump by national security adviser Robert O’Brien on Dec. 17.
U.S. officials are still trying to corroborate the information. The two senior administration officials who spoke to Axios would not describe the source of the intelligence, or say which non-state actors the Chinese government has allegedly paid.
“The U.S. 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,'” one of the sources told Axios.
Other intelligence sources told Politico that the intelligence about China is “very thin” and based on “rumors.” One of the sources told Politico that the intelligence is not as strong as the information that indicated that the Russian government has paid bounties to fighters in Afghanistan to target American soldiers there.
The New York Times reported earlier this year that Trump was briefed on the intelligence about Russia and that U.S. officials believed that Moscow was paying bounties to the Taliban to target U.S. troops. (RELATED: With New Report, NYT Subtly Undercuts Key Aspects Of Its Russia-Taliban Bounty Scoops)
The Trump White House pushed back heavily on that report, saying that the intelligence about Russia was never briefed directly to Trump. Top Defense Department officials also disputed the accuracy of the intelligence.
“I found it very worrisome, I just didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., the head of U.S. Central Command, said in July, according to ABC News.
“You see a lot of indicators, many of them are troubling many of them you act on. But, but in this case there just there wasn’t enough there.”
It was not immediately clear whether the intelligence underlying China’s alleged bounty payments will be made public following its declassification.
Sources who spoke to Axios and Politico noted that bounty payments would be out of character for the Chinese government, which typically avoids military aggression towards the U.S.
Andrew Small, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, told Axios that it would be “incongruous” for China to take aggressive action against U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
He said that peace in Afghanistan is “one of the extremely rare areas where the US and China still have a willingness to work together on an area of importance.”
“They know the drawdown is taking place. We’re not in the context where anything else needs to happen to US troops in Afghanistan. There is no reason to create additional pressure on US forces,” Small told the website.
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