U.S. Leaves Its Last Afghan Base, Effectively Ending Operations

By 2001, the United States had inherited rubble at the Bagram site. In January 2002, when the first American service member killed by enemy fire, Sgt. First Class Nathan R. Chapman, was sent home, there were no American flags to drape on his coffin, so a flag patch from someone’s uniform had to suffice.

By 2011, at the height of the American war, the air base had ballooned into a small city, with two runways, tens of thousands of occupants, shops and a U.S. military prison that became notorious. The thunder of jets and other aircraft, armed with hundreds of pounds of munitions that were dropped across the country, sometimes killing civilians, became a constant soundtrack for local residents throughout the conflict.

The base was also more violently attacked over the years, often by Taliban rockets and mortars, but sometimes by other means. In one of the worst strikes, in November 2016, a suicide bomber sneaked onto Bagram Air Base, hidden among a group of workers. The blast killed four Americans and wounded more than a dozen others.

Other foreign forces that helped guard the base as part of the U.S.-led coalition, like those from Georgia and the Czech Republic, saw their own casualties during their deployments.

In 2014, as the United States concluded its first official drawdown after the surge of troops in the years before — which brought the number of American and other international forces into the country to well over 100,000 — Bagram began to shrink.

Local contractors were fired, troops left and the surrounding town of the same name went into a downward economic spiral. Many residents had been reliant on the base for employment, and others had sorted through the camp’s refuse for goods that could be sold or shipped to Kabul.

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New Political Pressures Push US, Europe to Stop Israel-Gaza Conflict

BRUSSELS — A diplomatic flurry from the White House and Europe added pressure on Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza on Wednesday to halt their 10-day-old conflict before it turned into a war entangling more of the Middle East.

President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — their second phone call in three days — telling the Israeli leader he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” administration officials said. Although they portrayed the call as consistent with what Mr. Biden had been saying, his decision to set a deadline was an escalation.

And in Europe, France and Germany, both strong allies of Israel that had initially held back from pressuring Mr. Netanyahu in the early days of the conflict, intensified their push for a cease-fire.

French diplomats sought to advance their proposed United Nations Security Council resolution that would call on the antagonists to stop fighting and to allow unfettered humanitarian access to Gaza. It remained unclear on Wednesday if the United States, which has blocked all Security Council attempts to even issue a statement condemning the violence, would go along with the French resolution.

Twitter post afterward, he said, “I especially appreciate the support of our friend @POTUS Joe Biden, for the State of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

confronted Mr. Biden during his trip to a Ford plant, and pleaded with him to address the growing violence in the region and protect Palestinian lives.

Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, who witnessed that interaction, said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr. Netanyahu’s reluctance to negotiate a cease-fire had made it harder for Democrats across the political spectrum to defend Israel’s actions.

Some saw the second phone call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu as messaging to placate domestic constituents.

Democrats have been pushing Mr. Biden “to take a tougher line and this was his opportunity to demonstrate that he is doing so,” said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that supports Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. He also said Mr. Netanyahu “does not want to give the impression that he’s been told to end this conflict before it’s the right time to do so.”

For European nations, the intensified push for a cease-fire also is based partly on political calculations.

pro-Palestinian demonstrations have sometimes turned into anti-Israeli protests and anti-Semitic attacks, including assaults on synagogues. Governments fear such protests and internal violence will worsen the longer the conflict lasts.

France is on alert for acts of Islamist terrorism, often from French-born Muslims outraged by events in the Middle East. Germany, which welcomed a million mostly Muslim migrants in 2015, is struggling to contain their anger about Israel.

At the same time, the election of Mr. Trump in 2016 also encouraged a right-wing European populism that is anti-immigration and often anti-Islamic, with a clear political identification with “Judeo-Christian values” and strong support for Israel. That is clear in France, with the far-right party of Marine Le Pen, as well as in Germany, with the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Up until now at least, there also had been a gradual de-emphasis of the Palestinian issue by governments, said Kristina Kausch, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

She attributed that de-emphasis partly to Israel’s shelved plans to annex the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians want as part of their own ambitions for an independent state, and to the 2020 Abraham Accords, Israel’s normalization of ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, all big defenders of Palestinian rights. Ms. Kausch said there had been a sense that “the Palestinian cause can be put on the back burner, that Arab countries and people don’t care anymore.”

But this new outbreak, Ms. Kausch said, had shown “that the Palestinian cause is alive and kicking.” And no longer ignorable, at least for a while.

Julien Barnes-Dacey, director of the Middle East and North Africa program for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

At the beginning of this conflict, he said, the United States and Europe had been “largely sympathetic to the Israeli narrative, willing to give them some space to accomplish their military ambitions.”

similar two-page resolution passed by the Security Council during another fierce Gaza war in January 2009, and on which the United States abstained.

The draft resolution seeks a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access to Gaza, the condemnation of the rocket barrages and any incitement to violence, the official said.

In Germany, traditional support for Israel and patience with its military campaign appears to be waning.

After speaking with Mr. Netanyahu on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel “sharply condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and assured the prime minister of the German government’s solidarity,” said her spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

But given the many civilian lives lost “on both sides,” Mr. Seibert said, “the chancellor expressed her hope that the fighting will end as soon as possible.”

Mr. Maas, the German foreign minister, said on Tuesday that “ending the violence in the Middle East is the first priority,” followed by political negotiations. But he also blamed Hamas for the escalation.

He appeared to be responding to domestic criticism that the government has been too lenient in the face of pro-Palestinian and sometimes anti-Semitic protests.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented that Germany should “concentrate on internal affairs and reflect that the ‘welcome culture’ extended to refugees was astoundingly naïve when it came to anti-Semitism.”

The question for Germany now, the paper said, “is how do we teach those for whom a hatred of Israel is in their DNA that Israel’s security is part of their adopted homeland’s raison d’être?”

Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and Jim Tankersley and Katie Rogers from Washington. Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington.

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New Political Pressures Push U.S. and Europe to Stop Israel-Gaza Conflict

BRUSSELS — A diplomatic flurry from the White House and Europe added pressure on Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza on Wednesday to halt their 10-day-old conflict before it turned into a war entangling more of the Middle East.

President Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel — their second phone call in three days — telling the Israeli leader he “expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a cease-fire,” administration officials said. Although they portrayed the call as consistent with what Mr. Biden had been saying, his decision to set a deadline was an escalation. .

And in Europe, France and Germany, both strong allies of Israel that had initially held back from pressuring Mr. Netanyahu in the early days of the conflict, intensified their push for a cease-fire.

French diplomats sought to advance their proposed United Nations Security Council resolution that would call on the antagonists to stop fighting and to allow unfettered humanitarian access to Gaza. It remained unclear on Wednesday if the United States, which has blocked all Security Council attempts to even issue a statement condemning the violence, would go along with the French resolution.

Twitter post afterward, he said “I especially appreciate the support of our friend @POTUS Joe Biden, for the State of Israel’s right to self-defense.”

confronted Mr. Biden during his trip to a Ford plant, and pleaded with him to address the growing violence in the region and protect Palestinian lives.

Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, who witnessed that interaction, said in an interview on Wednesday that Mr. Netanyahu’s reluctance to negotiate a cease-fire had made it harder for Democrats across the political spectrum to defend Israel’s actions.

Some saw the second phone call between Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu as messaging to placate domestic constituents.

Democrats have been pushing Mr. Biden “to take a tougher line and this was his opportunity to demonstrate that he is doing so,” said Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington group that supports Mr. Netanyahu’s policies. He also said Mr. Netanyahu “does not want to give the impression that he’s been told to end this conflict before it’s the right time to do so.”

For European nations, the intensified push for a cease-fire also is based partly on political calculations.

pro-Palestinian demonstrations have sometimes turned into anti-Israeli protests, including attacks on synagogues. Governments fear such protests and internal violence will worsen the longer the conflict lasts.

France is on alert for acts of Islamist terrorism, often from French-born Muslims outraged by events in the Middle East. Germany, which welcomed a million mostly Muslim migrants in 2005, is struggling to contain their anger about Israel.

At the same time, the election of Mr. Trump in 2016 also encouraged a right-wing European populism that is anti-immigration and often anti-Islamic, with a clear political identification with “Judeo-Christian values’’ and strong support for Israel. That is clear in France, with the far-right party of Marine Le Pen, as well as in Germany, with the far-right Alternative for Germany party.

Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Up until now at least, there also had been a gradual de-emphasis of the Palestinian issue by governments, said Kristina Kausch, a senior fellow at the German Marshall Fund.

She attributed that de-emphasis partly to Israel’s shelved plans to annex the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians want as part of their own ambitions for an independent state, and to the 2020 Abraham Accords, Israel’s normalization of ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, all big defenders of Palestinian rights. Ms. Kausch said there had been a sense that “the Palestinian cause can be put on the back burner, that Arab countries and people don’t care anymore.”

But this new outbreak, Ms. Kausch said, had shown “that the Palestinian cause is alive and kicking.’’ And no longer ignorable, at least for a while.

Julien Barnes-Dacey, director of the Middle East and North Africa program for the European Council on Foreign Relations.

At the beginning of this conflict, he said, the United States and Europe had been “largely sympathetic to the Israeli narrative, willing to give them some space to accomplish their military ambitions.’’

similar two-page resolution passed by the Security Council during another fierce Gaza war in January 2009, and on which the United States abstained.

The draft resolution seeks a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access to Gaza, the condemnation of the rocket barrages and any incitement to violence, the official said.

In Germany, traditional support for Israel and patience with its military campaign appears to be waning.

After speaking with Mr. Netanyahu on Monday, Chancellor Angela Merkel “sharply condemned the continued rocket attacks from Gaza on Israel and assured the prime minister of the German government’s solidarity,” said her spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

But given the many civilian lives lost “on both sides,” Mr. Seibert said, “the chancellor expressed her hope that the fighting will end as soon as possible.”

Mr. Maas, the German foreign minister, said on Tuesday that “ending the violence in the Middle East is the first priority,’’ followed by political negotiations. But he also blamed Hamas for the escalation.

He appeared to be responding to domestic criticism that the government has been too lenient in the face of pro-Palestinian and sometimes anti-Semitic protests.

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung commented that Germany should “concentrate on internal affairs and reflect that the ‘welcome culture’ extended to refugees was astoundingly naïve when it came to anti-Semitism.’’

The question for Germany now, the paper said, “is how do we teach those for whom a hatred of Israel is in their DNA that Israel’s security is part of their adopted homeland’s raison d’être?”

Steven Erlanger reported from Brussels, and Jim Tankersley and Katie Rogers from Washington. Michael Crowley contributed reporting from Washington.

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A Scratched Hint of Ancient Ties Stirs National Furies in Europe

LANY, Czech Republic — In a region long fought over by rival ethnic and linguistic groups, archaeologists in the Czech Republic have discovered something unusual in these turbulent parts: evidence that peoples locked in hostility for much of the modern era got along in centuries past.

A few yards from a Czech Army pillbox built as a defense against Nazi Germany, the archaeologists discovered a cattle bone that they say bears inscriptions dating from the sixth century that suggest that different peoples speaking different languages mingled and exchanged ideas at that time.

Perhaps fitting for a such a fractious region, the find has set off a furious brawl among academics and archaeologists, and nationalists and Europhiles, about what it all means.

The bone fragment, identified by DNA analysis and carbon dating as coming from the rib of a cow that lived around 1,400 years ago, was found in a Slavic settlement in 2017, said Jiri Machacek, the head of the archaeology department at Masaryk University in the Czech city of Brno. But in what is considered a major finding, a team of scholars led by Dr. Machacek recently concluded that the bone bears sixth-century runes, a system of writing developed by early Germans.

article by Czech, Austrian, Swiss and Australian scholars in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The scratching, according to the Masaryk University team, turned out to be runic lettering, an ancient alphabet that was used by Germanic tribes before the adoption of the Latin script.

Inscribed on the bone are six of the last eight runes from a 24-letter alphabet known as Old Futhark, the oldest runic alphabet used by Germanic tribes during the first half of the first millennium.

Unlike Germanic tribes, who used runic lettering as early as the first century, speakers of Slavic tongues in places like Moravia, the site of an early Slav polity known as Great Moravia, were not thought to have had a written language until the ninth century.

“Suddenly, because of an archaeological find, the situation looks different,” said Dr. Machacek. “We see that people from the very beginning were connected, that Slavic people used runes” developed by early Germans, or at least had contact with them.

That Slavs also used or intermingled with people who used Germanic runes long before the arrival of the Greek monks who created Cyrillic, he added, upsets a conviction entrenched over centuries that Slavic culture developed separately from that of Germanic peoples and rests on its unique alphabet.

That was a major factor in the uproar that greeted the Masaryk University group’s findings.

Zuzana Hofmanova, a member of the Brno team who analyzes ancient DNA, said she recently received an anonymous message denouncing her and fellow scholars working on the inscribed sixth-century bone as traitors who deserved to be killed.

“Archaeological information can sometimes be misconstrued by people searching for ethnic purity,” she lamented.

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Village Caught in Czech-Russia Spy Case Just Wants Things to Stop Blowing Up

VLACHOVICE-VRBETICE, Czech Republic — For nearly a century, local residents have wondered at the strange comings and goings at a sealed-off camp ringed by barbed wire and dotted with keep out signs on the edge of their village.

The armies of Czechoslovakia, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the Czech Republic all made use over the decades of the 840-acre property, deterring trespassers with guard dogs and armed patrols.

When the professional soldiers pulled out in 2006, the secretive activities became even more shadowy. Dozens of weapons depots hidden among the trees were taken over by arms dealers, a company reprocessing missile fuel and other private businesses.

Then, in October 2014, came the biggest mystery of all.

An enormous explosion ripped through depot No. 16, knocking farmers in nearby fields to the ground and sending dangerous debris raining down on the surrounding area.

Russian and Czech diplomats from Prague and Moscow and pushed relations between the two countries to their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War.

The villagers, more focused on local property values than geopolitics, just want things to stop blowing up.

Holding a chunk of shrapnel that landed in his garden in 2014, Vojtech Simonik said he “felt no relief, only shock and amazement” when he watched the Czech prime minister talk on television about Russia’s role.

The announcement “created a real buzz around here,” said Mr. Simonik, who worked for a time at the camp dismantling artillery shells. “After seven years of silence, all the arguments are starting up again.”

The fenced-off property in which the explosions took place loops around the edge of two small adjacent villages with about 1,500 residents — Vlachovice (pronounced VLAKH-o-vee-tseh), the larger settlement, and Vrbetice (pronounced VR-byet-tee-tseh), just a few houses and a side road leading to the former military camp’s main entrance.

The mayor of Vlachovice, Zdenek Hovezak, said he had long wanted to know what was going on in the camp but got nowhere because everyone working there, including villagers hired to clean and perform other tasks, had to sign agreements swearing them to secrecy.

“I had no idea there was such a massive quantity of explosives so near our village,” said Mr. Hovezak, who had just been elected and was about to take office when the October blast happened.

The Military Technical Institute, a state entity that has managed the site since the Czech army pulled out, says it is now reviewing what to do with the property but insists that it will not be used again to store explosive materials for either the military or private companies.

Rostislav Kassa, a local builder, said he did not really care whether Russia is to blame for blowing up the place — although he firmly believes that it is — but he is angry that the Czech authorities ignored his efforts to sound the alarm years before the explosions.

Disturbed by reports that a rocket fuel company had rented premises in the camp, he started a petition in 2009 warning of a potential environmental disaster. Most residents signed it, he said, but his complaints to the Defense Ministry went unheeded.

“It doesn’t really matter who blew it up,” he said. “The main issue is that our government let this happen.” His own theory is that Russia wanted to disrupt supplies of rocket fuel to NATO forces, not, as is widely believed, to blow up weapons destined for Ukraine.

Ales Lysacek, the chief of the village’s volunteer fire force, recalled being called to the camp that day in October 2014 after a fire broke out there. He was ordered to get back by police officers guarding the entrance, and a few minutes later, after a series of small explosions, a gigantic blast sent a shock wave that knocked him and his men off their feet.

“We had no idea what was in all the depots,” Mr. Lysacek said. Nobody had ever thought to tell local fire fighters of the potential danger. Officials later assured villagers that the explosions had been an accident but, Mr. Lysacek said, “nobody here really believed them.”

After the 2014 blasts, it took six years for pyrotechnical experts to search the camp and village land around it for unexploded munitions and other hazardous debris.

The laborious cleanup operation, during which roads were often closed and villagers repeatedly evacuated from their homes for safety reasons, ended just last October.

Mr. Hovezak, the mayor, was astonished, like most villagers, to hear Prime Minister Andrej Babis say last month in a late night news conference that the huge 2014 blast on their doorstep had been the work of Russia’s military intelligence agency, known as the G.R.U.

“I was in complete shock,” the mayor said. “Nobody here ever imagined that Russian agents could be involved.”

That they were, at least according to a yearslong investigation by the Czech police and security services, has only stoked more questions about what was really going on in the camp and suspicions among locals that they have been told only half the story.

Mr. Simonik, who found the shrapnel chunk in his yard, said that he was not entirely convinced Russia was to blame but that he had never believed the blast was just an accident either. “I definitely think it did not explode on its own,” he said. “It was triggered by somebody.”

Who that might be is a question that has reopened old fissures across the country over the past and current role of Russia, whose troops invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 to depose its reform-minded communist leadership but is still credited by some Czechs for defeating Nazi Germany.

“The older generation remembers how Russians freed us from Hitler, while others remember 1968 when they invaded us,” said Ladislav Obadal, the deputy mayor of Vlachovice. “But hardly anyone has a good word for the Russians now.”

Except, that is, for President Milos Zeman, a frequent visitor to Moscow, who went on television recently to contradict the government’s account of the blasts. The explosions, he said, could have been an accident — sabotage by Russian spies was just one of two plausible theories.

Mr. Zeman’s statement prompted protests in Prague among Czechs who have long considered him far too Russia-friendly. It was also met with fury among residents of Vlachovice-Vrbetice who believe that Moscow should compensate the villages for all the physical and psychological damage caused, a demand the mayor said he supported if Russia’s role is proved.

Yaroslav Kassa, 70, the father of the local builder who said his disaster warnings had been ignored, has no doubt the Kremlin is to blame. “Of course the Russians did it,” Mr. Kassa said, noting that the Russian military would have detailed plans of the sprawling facility from the time when the Soviet army used it after the 1968 invasion.

His views have led to arguments with his neighbor, Jozef Svelhak, 74. Mr. Svelhak recalled how he knew and liked a former Soviet commander at the camp and said he had never heard of Russian spies in the area, only Western ones in the 1970s during the Cold War.

Half a century later, that spies are again said to be roaming around is a measure of how the Cold War suspicions rumble on in this remote eastern corner of the Czech Republic.

“It is fun to watch James Bond in films,” said another of Mr. Kassa’s sons, Yaroslav. “But we don’t want him hiding behind our hill.”

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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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Russian Spy Unit Investigated for Links to Bulgarian Explosions

SOFIA, Bulgaria — The prosecutor general’s office in Bulgaria announced Wednesday that it was investigating a possible connection between a series of explosions at ammunition depots around the country and an elite group of Russian military intelligence operatives known as Unit 29155.

The four explosions were part of a series of blasts that occurred over the past 10 years, said Siika Mileva, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor general. At least two happened at a time when members of the unit were frequently traveling in and out of Bulgaria, she said, and among the damaged goods was military matériel belonging to Emilian Gebrev, a major Bulgarian arms manufacturer who, officials say, was poisoned in 2015, along with his son and a senior executive at his company, by members of the same Russian unit.

The announcement comes just over a week after authorities in the Czech Republic blamed two similar explosions at ammunition depots in that country in 2014 on operatives from Unit 29155, which specializes in sabotage and assassination. Those depots also contained ammunition owned by Mr. Gebrev’s company, Emco.

“A reasonable assumption can be made about a link between the explosions on Bulgarian territory, the attempts to poison three Bulgarian citizens and serious crimes committed on the territory of foreign countries,” Ms. Mileva said.

Sergei V. Skripal in Britain and an attempted coup in Montenegro two years earlier. Last year, The New York Times revealed a C.I.A. assessment that the group may have carried out a covert effort to pay bounties to militants in Afghanistan for attacks on American and coalition troops.

Mr. Gebrev acknowledged selling ammunition and military equipment to “authorized Ukrainian companies” in late 2014. Though, Mr. Gebrev insists he provided only a small amount of military equipment, it would have offered a lifeline to Ukraine at a time when few Western countries would provide weaponry.

There has long been suspicion that the explosions in Bulgaria, at least those from 2015, were acts of sabotage. Why prosecutors are choosing to relaunch their investigation now is unclear.

Unlike the Czech authorities, who revealed new details about the explosions there and expelled dozens of Russian diplomats in response, Ms. Mileva provided little new evidence and made no indication that a response was forthcoming.

A fire that broke out at an administrative building in Sofia, the capital, in May 2015 destroyed evidence related to those two blasts, Ms. Mileva said.

Bulgaria’s investigation of the explosions comes at a time of escalating confrontation between Russia and the West. For weeks, Russian troops were massing on the border with Ukraine, though in the last week they have somewhat pulled back. This month the United States announced that it would expel 10 Russian diplomats and impose sanctions as punishment for a huge breach of government computers that the White House blamed on Russia’s foreign intelligence service.

Bulgaria, despite being a European Union member, has long maintained friendly relations with Russia, which is a critical energy supplier. But recently, there has been evidence that Bulgarian officials have grown weary of playing host to Russian intelligence operations.

In January 2020, Bulgarian authorities announced criminal charges against three officers from Unit 29155 for poisoning Mr. Gebrev, his son and the senior Emco executive. The three fell ill in April 2015, less than two weeks after one of the blasts at a Bulgarian ammunition depot. An investigation determined that they were sickened with a substance similar to the Novichok nerve agent that British authorities say was used by officers from Unit 29155 on Mr. Skripal and his daughter in the United Kingdom.

Last month, after Bulgarian officials announced the arrest of six people they said were involved in an espionage ring run by the Russian security services, the country’s prime minister, Boiko Borisov, spoke to reporters, telling the Kremlin to knock it off.

“Stop spying in Bulgaria,” Mr. Borisov said.

Boryana Dzhambazova reported from Sofia, and Michael Schwirtz from New York.

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