Russia has dismissed “baseless” accusations that it has offered rewards to the Taliban militants for killing US soldiers and other NATO members in Afghanistan.
The New York Times and Washington Post quoted US officials as saying that a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered the alleged bonuses last year.
The Russian Embassy in the United States said the allegations had threatened diplomats.
The Taliban also denied the existence of such an agreement with the Russian intelligence services.
Reports come as the United States attempts to negotiate a peace deal to end the 19-year war in Afghanistan.
According to the New York Times, President Donald Trump was informed of the reports in March, but the White House denied this.
“Neither the president nor the vice president has been informed of the alleged information about the Russian bonuses,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said on Saturday evening.
However, she added, “This is not about the merit of the alleged information, but the inaccuracy of the history of the New York Times wrongly suggesting that President Trump was informed of the matter.”
Anonymous officials quoted by the New York Times said that American intelligence agencies concluded months ago that a unit of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU had sought to destabilize its opponents by secretly offering bonuses for successful attacks on coalition forces.
Islamist activists, or closely associated elements of armed crime, have reportedly collected money, the newspaper said.
In a series of Twitter posts, the Russian Embassy in the United States accused the newspaper of promoting false news.
Twenty U.S. soldiers died in Afghanistan in 2019, but the New York Times said it was unclear which deaths were suspected.
Officials quoted by the New York Times said that the White House National Security Council had thought about how to react, including imposing an increasing series of sanctions against Russia.
The GRU unit allegedly involved was also linked to the attempted murder of former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with a nerve agent in Salisbury, England in March 2018.
A Taliban spokesman also called the accusations groundless.
“Our killings and targeted killings continued for years before, and we did it on our own resources,” Zabihullah Mujahid told the New York Times.
He said the Taliban had stopped attacking US and NATO forces after agreeing to a phased withdrawal of troops and the lifting of sanctions in February. In return, the Taliban have declared that they will not allow extremist groups to operate in areas they control.