The Trump administration is reportedly moving to declassify unconfirmed intelligence that China offered to pay non-state actors in Afghanistan to attack American troops.
Two senior administration officials told Axios that the intelligence was included in President Donald Trump’s Dec. 17 briefing.
Trump was reportedly verbally briefed on the matter by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien.
Axios was not able to visually inspect any reports on the intelligence but a summary of it was described over the phone.
“The U.S. has evidence that the [People’s Republic of China] attempted to finance attacks on American serviceman by Afghan non-state actors by offering financial incentives or ‘bounties,'” one official said.
The administration is currently working to corroborate the report, and the official said the National Security Council “is coordinating a whole-of-government investigation.”
If the report is found to be true, it could escalate tensions between China and the United States. If it is not, it would raise questions about the sources behind the intelligence.
Andrew Small, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund who specializes in China-Afghanistan affairs, told Axios it seemed “incongruous” that China would take this action.
Pursuing peace in Afghanistan is “one of the extremely rare areas where the U.S. and China still have a willingness to work together on an area of importance,” he said.
“They know the drawdown is taking place. We’re not in the context where anything else needs to happen to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. There is no reason to create additional pressure on U.S. forces.”
It is not clear at this time if any members of Congress or presumptive President-elect Joe Biden have been briefed on the matter; Biden does have access to the President’s Daily Brief.
A transition official said that Biden’s team will seek to learn “as much as we can about these allegations,” Politico reported.
“As president, Joe Biden will hold to account anyone who would seek to endanger brave Americans,” the official said.
“Nevertheless, we’re not going to speak to alleged intelligence reporting, nor the motivation behind the release of what is reported to be uncorroborated information.”
The report comes as Trump plans to continue what has been characterized as a full-fledged campaign to rein in China, according to the Washington Examiner.
“[O]ver the coming weeks, the Trump administration will continue to expand the depth and breadth of the historic actions it has taken over the past four years to protect the vital interests of the United States and its allies countering Beijing’s predatory and coercive behaviors,” the Examiner said it was told by a senior administration official.
It also comes months after news reports indicated that Russians had offered bounties for Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, though those allegations have in large part been dismissed by U.S. officials.
However, a senior U.S. official told Politico that the new intelligence was “very thin” in comparison to the Russian report.
The U.S. “treats this intelligence with caution, but any intelligence or reports relating to the safety of U.S. forces is something we take very seriously,” the official said.
The Chinese embassy in Washington, D.C., did not respond to Axios’ request for comment.
Both ABC News and CNN confirmed Axios’ reporting about the Trump administration’s plan to declassify the intelligence.