US intelligence agencies assessed that Iran offered bounties to Taliban fighters for targeting American and coalition troops in Afghanistan, identifying payments linked to at least six attacks carried out by the militant group just last year alone, including a suicide bombing at a US air base in December, CNN has learned.
“Bounties” were paid by a foreign government, identified to CNN as Iran, to the Haqqani network – a terrorist group that is led by the second highest ranking leader of the Taliban – for their attack on Bagram Air Base on December 11, which killed two civilians and injured more than 70 others, including four US personnel, according to a Pentagon briefing document reviewed by CNN.
The name of the foreign government that made these payments remains classified but two sources familiar with the intelligence confirmed to CNN that it refers to Iran.
The US killed a key Iranian general in Iraq less than a month after the Bagram attack but after a lengthy process involving several agencies to develop options aimed at countering Iran’s support for militant groups in Afghanistan. The decision was made in March not to take specific action as officials did not want to jeopardize the peace process with the Taliban, according to multiple sources familiar.
The revelation that Iran might have paid the Taliban follows the controversy over Russian bounties for attacks on American troops, an issue that has been consistently downplayed by the Trump administration in recent weeks.
Russia has denied the allegation.
The lack of public condemnation of Iran or the Taliban and the decision not to pursue a diplomatic or military response also highlights the administration’s apparent desire to protect peace talks with the Taliban – which culminated in an agreement that was signed in February – at all costs with the goal of helping Trump fulfill his long-stated campaign promise of removing American troops from Afghanistan.
Sophisticated attack rattled officials
The attack at Bagram, which is regarded as the most prominent US military installation in Afghanistan, was highly sophisticated and rattled officials working on Afghanistan matters because it highlighted vulnerabilities of some of the American compounds, according to one source involved in the Taliban peace efforts.
Specifically, the Pentagon briefing document noted that a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (SVBIED) was used in the attack. Roughly 10 Taliban fighters engaged in a firefight with local security forces after the explosion and were ultimately killed by US airstrikes.
That sentiment was also factored into assessments by US intelligence officials from the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in the days after the attack, according to documents obtained by CNN.