TALIBAN fighters were offered money to target and kill Americans, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment.
U.S. intelligence sources told CNN that Iran offered bounties to Taliban fighters for targeting American and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
The agencies were able to link the bounties to at least six attacks from Taliban fighters carried out on U.S. and coalition troops last year alone. One of the attacks included a suicide bombing at a U.S. air base in December.
Sources told CNN a foreign government identified as Iran offered "bounties" to the terrorist group the Haqqani network, which is led by the second highest-ranking leader of the Taliban.
On Dec. 11, Haqqani network terrorists killed two civilians and injured more than 70 others–including four U.S. personnel– in an attack on Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.
Although a Pentagon briefing document detailing the evidence kept the foreign government behind the payments classified, sources tell CNN it was Iran offering the money.
The U.S. killed Iranian Gen. Qasem Soleimani less than a month after the Bagram attack, but that act wasn't specifically linked to the bounties and government officials looked for ways to mitigate the risk of another future attack on U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
By March, it was decided that no specific action would be taken to avoid jeopardizing the ongoing peace talks with the Taliban.
The news follows revelations that Russians may have also offered bounties for attacks on American troops, a charge intel analysts are split about and which the Trump administration has downplayed. Russia has also denied the allegations.
An agreement was signed in February between the U.S. and the Taliban, keeping a campaign promise Trump made to remove U.S. troops from the region.
The Bagram attack particularly highlighted vulnerabilities of U.S. troops on American compounds in the region, a source told CNN.
The Pentagon briefing document reviewed by the network noted a suicide vehicle loaded with improvised explosive devices was used in the attack, resulting in about 10 Taliban fightings trading fire with local security forces following the explosion. They were later killed by U.S. airstrikes.
The vulnerabilities were likewise detailed in similar findings from the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Counterterrorism Center days following the attack.
The Pentagon briefing document stated immediate action was warranted "based on the nature of the attack and agreed upon bounties."
The document also notes funding linked to the Dec. 11 attack at Bagram "probably incentivizes future high-profile attacks on U.S. and coalition forces," although the document does note the Haqqani network is likely to attack with or without future payments.
Iran is known for using proxies in the region to conduct attacks on U.S. and coalition forces. Following the Bagram attack, U.S. intelligence agencies began looking into Iran's relationship with the Haqqani Network's operations in Afghanistan.
The National Security Council noted the relationship "poses a significant threat to U.S. interests" but also recommended the federal government to not take specific action against Iran.
Multiple sources also told CNN Iran's link to the Taliban was cited by U.S. officials as one of the factors for the U.S. strike that killed Soleimani in January.
As part of the peace agreement with the Taliban, the U.S. has removed troops from five bases in Afghanistan.
Pentagon spokesman Army Maj. Rob Lodewick told CNN "the Department of Defense does not disclose timelines or discussions surrounding internal deliberations and intelligence briefings."
He did, however, acknowledge Iran's actions were undermining the peace process.
"The administration has repeatedly demanded, both publicly and privately, that Iran cease its scourge of malign and destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East and the world," he continued. "While the United States, its NATO allies and coalition partners are working to facilitate an end to 19 years of bloodshed, Iran's inimical influence seeks to undermine the Afghan peace process and foster a continuation of violence and instability."
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