Intel on China bounties called ‘less' credible than Russia payments

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Allegations that China secretly offered bounties to Afghan militants to kill U.S. troops are “less” credible than previous intelligence reports indicating that Russia embarked on a similar operation, according to a senior U.S. official.

National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien briefed President Donald Trump on the unconfirmed allegations on Dec. 17, according to two other senior administration officials. But they stressed that the intelligence, first reported by Axios on Wednesday, is uncorroborated.

In fact, the intelligence is “very thin” — thinner even than reports that Russia offered payments to the Taliban to target U.S. and coalition troops, which were never corroborated, the first senior U.S. official told POLITICO.

The official went on to described the recent intelligence as “rumors” and lacking “hard evidence.”

But the allegations involving Chinese operatives in Afghanistan are being handled very differently by Trump officials than the those involving Moscow earlier this year.

Trump initially denounced media reports on the alleged Russian bounties, calling it a “hoax.” He said intelligence officials told him he was not briefed about those allegations at the time because they did not find them credible.

The Russian allegations have since been largely dismissed. “It just wasn’t there,” said the senior U.S. official.

Yet O’Brien briefed Trump and members of the national security team on the most recent allegations of Chinese activity in Afghanistan on Dec. 17 and convened a National Security Council Policy Coordination Committee on the topic on Dec. 22, one senior administration official said.

The U.S. “treats this intelligence with caution, but any intelligence or reports relating to the safety of US forces is something we take very seriously,” said the official.

The new allegations involve potential Chinese incentives to “Afghan non-state actors,” as opposed to the militant Taliban that has been fighting U.S. led forces and the Afghan government, the senior official said, employing the term commonly used for terrorist groups.

Recent intelligence also suggests that China has been funneling Chinese-made weapons in Afghanistan, the person said.

However, other U.S. defense officials said they would be surprised if the allegations are true, noting that such a move would not be in keeping with China’s operating style. China is typically far more “cautious” in its international behavior, said one former defense official, adding that the allegations could be “disinformation.”

“I’d be surprised but not shocked,” the person said. “In my experience, the Chinese have been less willing to put U.S. service people in direct harm’s way because of its escalatory implications.”

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley recently met with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, to urge a reduction in violence and make progress on stalled peace talks between the militants and the Afghan government. There has not been an American combat death in Afghanistan since the U.S. signed a peace treaty with the Taliban in February.

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