Intel: Iran paid bounties to Taliban for US soldiers, influencing Soleimani strike

al-monitor In this file photo taken on Nov. 28, 2019, US President Donald Trump speaks to the troops during a surprise Thanksgiving day visit at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Photo by OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images.

Aug 17, 2020

US intelligence agencies believe that Iran’s government paid the Taliban to carry out a December attack on the US-run Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, but the Donald Trump administration declined to retaliate against the Afghan insurgents in order to preserve a fragile peace deal, CNN reported Monday.

Multiple US intelligence agencies concluded that Iran has been offering bounty payments to the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network for attacks on US soldiers, according to CNN. In December, about 10 Taliban fighters and a suicide car bomb attempted to breach the perimeter at the airbase. US intelligence officials came to believe Iran’s payments may have incentivized the attack.

According to CNN’s sources, Iran’s links to the militants were among the arguments put forth by US officials during internal deliberations over whether to kill top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani — which the United States did via drone strike in Baghdad in January.

Why it matters:  The Trump administration has insisted it assassinated Soleimani in self-defense, but has yet to publicly offer any evidence that Iran was planning “imminent attacks” against US personnel.

CNN’s report now appears to shed some light on why the administration may have sought to conceal its assessments of Iran’s links to the Taliban. Seeking a domestic political win with a quick US exit from nearly two decades of involvement in Afghanistan’s conflict, the Trump administration is under fire for potentially abandoning the Afghan government to the insurgents as it prepares to withdraw its troops.

Though the Pentagon was aware that four of its servicemembers had been wounded in the Bagram attack — which involved a suicide car bomb and about 10 Taliban fighters — the administration made no initial public acknowledgement of the injuries.

What’s next:  Defense Secretary Mark Esper said earlier this month that the current number of some 8,600 US troops in Afghanistan would decrease to less than 5,000 by the November US presidential election.

The Trump administration has repeatedly said its plans to leave Afghanistan are “conditions based,” though deadly Taliban attacks on Afghan civilians and government forces have not abated since the United States reached its agreement with the insurgents in February.

Know more:  The Trump administration has not been shy about its allegations that Iran has allowed al-Qaeda to use its territory, however.

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