Iran has been paying bounties to Taliban insurgents in exchange for targeting and attacking American and coalition troops, U.S. intelligence officials say, according to a CNN report on Monday.
American intelligence officials linked bounty payments to six attacks carried out by the Haqqani network, including a December bombing of Bagram Air Base that killed 2 and wounded 70, including 4 American service personnel. The Bagram base is considered America’s most prominent military installation in Afghanistan.
An internal Pentagon document showed the sophisticated attack—which involved a suicide bombing and frontal assault—likely met the criteria for reimbursement from Tehran.
The document states that the funding linked to the attack "probably incentivizes future high-profile attacks on U.S. and Coalition forces."
A White House official told CNN the attack became a key justification for launching the airstrike that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in January.
"Iran has tried to use proxy groups to carry out the Iranian regime's own nefarious agenda, and it would be a mistake for any faction of the Taliban to get entangled in Iran's dirty work," a State Department spokesperson said. The White House "remains committed to addressing the full range of threats Iran poses to the U.S. and regional stability," they added.
Asymmetric use of bounties to threaten U.S. forces has also allegedly been employed by Russia in recent months. Frank McKenzie, commander of CENTCOM, has maintained that while such claims are "worrisome," they are not yet conclusive. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo broached the topic with Russian ministers last week.
"If the Russians are offering money to kill Americans or, for that matter, other Westerners as well, there will be an enormous price to pay," Pompeo said in an interview last Wednesday. "We won’t brook that; we won’t tolerate that."
The newly released information comes as tensions reach a boiling point between Washington and Tehran. A recent DNI report indicates Iran’s interest in damaging Trump's reelection prospects, as the United States prepares to take its maximum pressure campaign to a new level.
Last week, the extension of the Iranian arms embargo failed in a United Nations Security Council vote. In response, both President Trump and multiple prominent lawmakers have called for tough "snapback" sanctions on Iran for its clear violation of international law and the Iranian nuclear program.