Spain Sends Troops to African Enclave After Migrant Crossings Jump

Spain deployed troops, military trucks and helicopters in its North African enclave of Ceuta on Tuesday after thousands of people crossed over from Morocco, one of the largest movements of migrants reported in the area in recent years.

More than 6,000 migrants, including 1,500 minors, arrived on the beaches of Ceuta on Monday and Tuesday, mostly swimming or aboard inflatable boats, according to the Spanish authorities, who said that Spain had already sent back 2,700 people.

The sudden arrival of thousands of people in Ceuta — more than had attempted the crossing in all the rest of the year so far — comes amid a deepening diplomatic spat between Spain and Morocco over the hospitalization in Spain of the leader of a rebel group that has fought for the independence of Western Sahara from Morocco.

Videos broadcast on Spanish television on Tuesday appeared to show Moroccan border guards opening fences to the Spanish enclave. While Morocco has warned of “consequences” for harboring the rebel leader, it was not immediately clear if the spike in migration was linked to the diplomatic dispute.

International Organization for Migration with the coronavirus pandemic having likely forced more migrants to migrate through that route.

“Many of those trying to reach the Canary Islands came from Senegal and were forced to leave because of the impact of the pandemic on fishing in particular,” said Julia Black, a project officer at the organization’s Global Migration Data Analysis Center and the report’s author.

Polisario Front, a separatist movement that has been fighting for Western Sahara’s independence from Morocco.

Moroccan officials have reacted with anger over the news that the leader, Brahim Ghali, had been hospitalized with Covid-19 in Spain under an alias. The Moroccan foreign ministry said this month that the authorities would “draw all consequences” from Spain’s “premeditated” decision to treat Mr. Ghali.

Spain’s foreign minister, Arancha González Laya, said in a radio interview on Monday that Mr. Ghali’s hospitalization was a humanitarian response to “a person who was in a very, very fragile health situation.”

She added that Moroccan officials had told their Spanish counterparts that the sudden rise in migrant crossings was not the result of a disagreement over the hospitalization.

Estrella Galán, the director general of CEAR, a Spanish group that helps asylum seekers and refugees, said Morocco was using migration as leverage against Spain.

But she added that Morocco’s move was the consequence of the European Union’s decision after the refugee crisis of 2015 to rely on greater control of migration by countries outside the bloc.

“This is what happens when we convert other countries into gendarmes of our own borders,” Ms. Galán said.

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Russian Spy Team Left Traces That Bolstered C.I.A.’s Bounty Judgment

WASHINGTON — In early 2020, members of a Taliban-linked criminal network in Afghanistan detained in raids told interrogators that they had heard that Russians were offering money to reward killings of American and coalition troops.

The claim, that Russia was trying to pay to generate more frequent attacks on Western forces, was stunning, particularly because the United States was trying at the same time to negotiate a deal with the Taliban to end the long-running war in Afghanistan. C.I.A. analysts set out to see whether they could corroborate or debunk the detainees’ accounts.

Ultimately, newly declassified information shows, those analysts discovered a significant reason to believe the claim was accurate: Other members of the same Taliban-linked network had been working closely with operatives from a notorious unit of the G.R.U., the Russian military intelligence service, known for assassination operations.

“The involvement of this G.R.U. unit is consistent with Russia encouraging attacks against U.S. and coalition personnel in Afghanistan given its leading role in such lethal and destabilizing operations abroad,” the National Security Council said in a statement provided to The New York Times.

U.S. sanctions and other punishments against Russia. The White House took diplomatic action — delivering a warning and demanding an explanation for suspicious activities — about the bounty issue, but did not base sanctions on it. The Biden administration did impose sanctions for Russia’s SolarWinds hacking and election interference.

The Times had reported last summer that different intelligence agencies, while agreeing on the assessment itself, disagreed on whether to put medium or lower confidence in it. The evidence available to analysts — both alarming facts and frustrating gaps — essentially remains the same.

The release of the full talking points as a statement is the government’s most detailed public explanation yet about how the C.I.A. came to the judgment that Russia had most likely offered financial incentives to reward attacks on American and allied troops. It also sheds new light on the gaps in the evidence that raised greater concerns among other analysts.

not intercepted any smoking-gun electronic communication about a bounty plot. (The Defense Intelligence Agency shares that view, while the National Counterterrorism Center agrees with the C.I.A.’s “moderate” level, officials have said.)

But the statement reveals that despite that disagreement over how to rate the quality of available information underlying the core assessment, the intelligence community also had “high confidence” — meaning the judgment is based on high-quality information from multiple sources — in the key circumstantial evidence: Strong ties existed between Russian operatives and the Afghan network where the bounty claims arose.

“We have independently verified the ties of several individuals in this network to Russia,” the National Security Council statement said. It added, “Multiple sources have confirmed that elements of this criminal network worked for Russian intelligence for over a decade and traveled to Moscow in April 2019.”

The declassified statement also opened a window into American officials’ understanding of the Russian operatives, known as Unit 29155 of the G.R.U. The government has previously resisted talking openly about group, although a Times investigation in 2019 linked it to various operations, citing Western security officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

By contrast, the National Security Council statement identified other “nefarious operations” around the world that the government thought the squad had carried out — to explain why the discovery of its involvement with the Afghan network was seen as bolstering the credibility of the detainees’ claims about Russian bounties.

the 2018 poisoning of a former G.R.U. officer, Sergei V. Skripal, in Salisbury, England, and of “assassinations across Europe.”

Unit 29155 was involved in two explosions at ammunition depots that killed two Czechs in 2014. He said the government would expel nearly 80 Russian diplomats.

Days later, the prosecutor general’s office in Bulgaria announced that it was investigating a possible connection between Unit 29155 and four explosions at ammunition depots over the past decade. At least two happened while members of the unit were frequently traveling in and out of Bulgaria, the office said.

Some of the destroyed arms in both countries, according to officials, belonged to Emilian Gebrev, a Bulgarian arms manufacturer who was poisoned in 2015 along with his son and an executive in his company. Officials have previously accused Unit 29155 in that attempted assassination.

While most previous reports about Unit 29155’s activities have centered in Europe, its leader, Maj. Gen. Andrei V. Averyanov, has experience in Central Asia. He graduated in 1988 from the Tashkent Military Academy in what was then the Soviet republic of Uzbekistan, a year before the Soviet pullout from bordering Afghanistan.

The government apparently did not declassify everything. The White House statement described but did not detail certain evidence, keeping its sources and methods of information-gathering secret. It did not specify the G.R.U. unit’s number, but officials have said it was Unit 29155, and the two prior operations the statement mentioned have been attributed to it elsewhere.

as a middleman for the Russian spies, and Habib Muradi. Both escaped capture and are said to have fled to Russia.

And it made no mention of other circumstantial evidence officials have previously described, like the discovery that money was transferred from a G.R.U. account to the Afghan network.

In an interview published April 30 in a Russian newspaper, Nikolai Patrushev, the chairman of Russia’s Security Council, again said it was false that Russia had covertly offered bounties for killing American troops in Afghanistan, adding that there was no evidence that it had done so.

The White House statement also brought into sharper focus two gaps in the available evidence that analysts saw as a reason to be cautious.

Military leaders have repeatedly pointed to one in public: The intelligence community lacks proof tying any specific attack to a bounty payment. “We cannot confirm that the operation resulted in any attacks on U.S. or coalition forces,” the National Security Council said.

The other reason for caution is an absence of information showing that a Kremlin leader authorized Unit 29155 to offer bounties to Afghan militants. “We do not have evidence that the Kremlin directed this operation,” the statement said.

The Biden administration’s briefing to reporters last month reignited a debate over the political implications of the C.I.A.’s assessment — and the Trump White House’s handling of it — that unfolded last year and dwelled in part on confidence levels.

reported last June on the existence of the C.I.A. assessment and that the White House had led an interagency effort to come up with options to respond but then authorized none.

Facing bipartisan criticism, the Trump administration defended its inaction by playing down the assessment as too weak to take seriously, falsely denying that it had been briefed to President Donald J. Trump. In fact, it had been included in his written presidential daily briefing in late February, two officials have said.

In congressional testimony, military leaders based in the United States who regularly interacted with the Trump White House said they would be outraged if it were true, but they had not seen proof that any attack resulted from bounties. But some military officials based in Afghanistan, as well as some other senior Pentagon and State Department officials, thought the C.I.A. was right, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations at the time.

Among those who found the evidence and analysis persuasive was Nathan Sales, the State Department’s politically appointed top counterterrorism official during the Trump administration.

“The reporting that Russia was placing bounties on American soldiers’ heads was so serious that it warranted a robust diplomatic response,” Mr. Sales said this week in an email.

A top Pentagon official and the secretary of state at the time, Mike Pompeo, later delivered warnings over the issue to their Russian counterparts, effectively breaking with the White House.

After the briefing last month, some Trump supporters — as well as some left-wing critics of the C.I.A. and military interventions — argued that the C.I.A.’s bounty assessment had been debunked as evidence-free “fake news,” vindicating Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the issue last year as a “hoax.” Russian propaganda outlets echoed and amplified those assertions.

Michael J. Morell, a former acting director of the C.I.A., said another factor had fostered confusion. When analysts assess something with low confidence, he said, that does not mean they think the conclusion is wrong. Rather, they are expressing greater concerns about the sourcing limitations, while still judging that the assessment is the best explanation of the available facts.

“A judgment at any confidence level is a judgment that the analysts believe to be true,” he said. “Even when you have a judgment that is low confidence, the analysts believe that judgment is correct. So in this case, the analysts believe that the Russians were offering bounties.”

Charlie Savage and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Michael Schwirtz from New York. Julian E. Barnes contributed reporting from Washington.

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Over 40 Dead in Tajik-Kyrgyz Border Clash as Death Toll Rises

MOSCOW — A border clash this week between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan killed more than 40 people, government officials said Friday, significantly raising the death toll for an episode that began as a dispute over irrigation water.

The outbreak of violence comes at a delicate time for the United States after the Biden administration announced a full withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, which borders Tajikistan to the south, by September. The nations of Central Asia provide an alternative to Pakistan as an overland route to withdraw American military equipment.

The fighting around a Tajik enclave in southwestern Kyrgyzstan briefly resumed on Friday before the countries’ presidents spoke on the phone and agreed to meet next month. The sides had agreed to a cease-fire Thursday.

The office of Kyrgyzstan’s president, Sadyr Zhaparov, issued a statement saying it was “confident that mutually beneficial cooperation between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will continually and fruitfully develop on the basis of traditional and centuries-old friendship and honesty between the peoples.”

reports suggested the situation on the ground, entangled in local grievances and raw ethnic tension, remained unfriendly. Videos posted online showed Tajik-speakers rejoicing as Kyrgyz homes burned in one village.

What began with rock throwing between Tajiks and Kyrgyz in villages along the border escalated into an exchange of small-arms fire between border guards and other security forces.

Kyrgyz authorities said that the Tajik government had deployed military forces in the region before the escalation and that a helicopter attacked a border post. Still, when the fighting stopped with a cease-fire Thursday both sides reported a total of six dead.

But on Friday the Ministry of Health of Kyrgyzstan said 31 people died and 154 people were wounded on its side. The national authorities in Tajikistan have not released a death toll for their side, but local media citing regional officials said 10 people had died and 90 were wounded.

The fighting centered around Vorukh, a Tajik enclave in Kyrgyzstan that has for years been a hot spot in a long-simmering conflict over ethnic enclaves in and around the Ferghana Valley in Central Asia, a legacy of the Soviet breakup.

Another long-running security headache in Central Asia has been water politics. Tajikistan controls the headwaters of many of the region’s rivers that the four other former Soviet states, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, depend on for irrigation. The fighting this week began over control of an irrigation canal.

In the early stages of the Afghan war, the United States opened two bases in Central Asia to move troops into Afghanistan, and also transported everything from fuel to food on an overland route through the region and into the war zone.

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