<p>US marines in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (Getty)<br></p>
US President Donald Trump was briefed this month about intelligence reports that China had offered to pay bounties to fighters in Afghanistan who attacked US soldiers there, but the information was uncorroborated and comes months after Trump dismissed as a “hoax” a CIA assessment that Russia had paid for such attacks.
It is unclear whether the intelligence on China shows that any bounties were paid or whether any attacks on US personnel were even attempted. US intelligence agencies collect enormous amounts of information, much of which turns out to be false or misleading.
The information, included in the president’s written briefing December 17 and relayed verbally by NSA Robert O’Brien – was earlier reported on Wednesday night by Axios and confirmed by US officials. The report said that the underlying intelligence on the bounties would be declassified, although it was unclear why or for whom. White House officials would not elaborate.
Although tensions between the US and China have escalated significantly during the Trump era, Beijing is not known to provide substantial support to anti-American proxies in combat zones like Afghanistan, and some national security experts were initially sceptical that Beijing would support attacks on Americans. By contrast, many considered similar reports about Russian bounties to be credible.
If confirmed, and particularly if traced to political leaders in Beijing, such an action by China would constitute a grave provocation that might demand a response by President-elect Joe Biden.
A Biden transition official would not say on Wednesday whether Biden, who now receives official daily intelligence briefings, had been presented with the same information. But the official said that the Biden team would seek to learn more about it from the Trump administration and that it underscored the importance of a cooperative transition process, including with the defence department, which Biden on Monday accused of “obstruction.”
“Right now,” Biden said in Wilmington, Delaware, “we just aren’t getting all the information that we need from the outgoing administration in key national security areas.”