The Trump administration is set to declassify an intelligence report that indicates China offered to pay non-state actors in Afghanistan to attack US soldiers.
Two senior Trump administration officials told Axios that the as-yet uncorroborated intelligence was recently briefed to president Trump. The disclosure of the intelligence follows Trump’s promise to increase pressure on China and follows uncorroborated news reports that the Russian government secretly offered bounties on US troops in Afghanistan to the Taliban.
Axios reached out to the Chinese embassy in DC which did not respond to a request for comment. The outlet reports that Trump is not believed to have brought up the matter with Chinese President Xi Jinping, is it also unclear whether members of congress or president-elect Joe Biden have been briefed.
According to Axios, Trump was verbally briefed on the intelligence by national security advisor, Robert O’Brien, the administration is currently working with multiple federal agencies to corroborate the initial report.
Should the intelligence be confirmed, it will represent a dramatic change in strategy for China and sharply escalate tensions between the two countries.
According to Axios, if the intelligence proves inaccurate it raises questions about the motivation of the sources as well as the administration’s decision to declassify the intelligence.
For years China has played a quiet diplomatic role in Afghanistan and has previously invited members of the Taliban to Beijing to discuss a peace deal while encouraging an Afghan-led solution. Chinese produced weapons have made it into the battleground throughout the years.
Axios claims that it is “incongruous” that China would take such a stance in Afghanistan, the article quotes Andrew Small, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund, a specialist in China-Afghanistan affairs.
Quoting Small, “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.”
The White House previously lashed out at the New York Times for publishing “unverified” allegations about Russia’s attempts to place bounties on American troops. In a statement The White House Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany suggested that “Rogue intelligence officers were undermining Trump and US security.” She also stated that the President was not brief because the intelligence could not be verified.
Gen. Frank McKenzie said in September that, “it just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me” that Russia offered these bounties. (This information was included in the President's Daily Brief earlier in the year, the New York Times first reported).
Speaking to Axios, a senior official involved in the China discussions said: “Like all first reports, we react with caution to initial reports” but “any intel reports relating to the safety of our forces we take very seriously.”
Officials close to the intelligence would not describe the source or sources of the report or clarify when the activity allegedly occurred.
“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'” and said the National Security Council “is coordinating a whole-of-government investigation,” said one official.
The US and British governments have previously complained about the presence of Chinese weaponry being used by Taliban militants. According to the Hindustan Times, China’s interest in Afghanistan stems from its desire to prevent Chinese-Muslim separatist groups from using Afghanistan as a base. The outlet also reports that Afghan security officials discovered an alleged Chinese spy ring operating in Afghanistan, apparently seeking to target Uighurs.