The top general of U.S. Central Command said Tuesday he is concerned about intelligence that Russia has paid Taliban fighters to target American troops in Afghanistan, but that he has not seen evidence the alleged bounty program has resulted in the death of U.S. soldiers.
“I found it very worrisome, I just didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr., one of the highest-ranking U.S. generals overseeing operations in the Middle East, told a group of reporters, according to ABC News.
“You see a lot of indicators, many of them are troubling many of them you act on. But, but in this case there just there wasn’t enough there.”
“I sent the intelligence guys back to continue to dig on it, and I believe they’re continuing to dig right now, but I just didn’t see enough there to tell me that the circuit was closed in that regard,” he added, according to ABC.
McKenzie’s remarks are the most detailed to date about how U.S. military leaders assessed intelligence about the alleged bounty program. His comments also suggest that the intelligence is not as definitive as initial press reports made it seem.
The New York Times reported on June 26 that U.S. officials had confirmed Russia’s military intelligence unit, the GRU, was paying Taliban fighters to target U.S. troops. The newspaper added another potential bombshell, claiming that President Trump was briefed on the intelligence earlier this year but had not authorized any response. (RELATED: With Follow-Up Report, NYT Subtly Undercuts Russia-Taliban Bounty Story)
Trump, White House officials, and intelligence officials have vehemently denied that the president was told about the bounty program. The Times subtly walked back its story, reporting in a follow up piece that the intelligence was included in a written briefing compiled for Trump on Feb. 27 and that it was unclear whether the information was orally communicated to him.
Other officials have said that the intelligence was not verified and still under investigation. Some Republican lawmakers briefed on the intelligence accused the Times of publishing incomplete information and derailing an ongoing investigation into alleged bounty payments.
The Trump administration is reportedly conducting an expansive investigation to root out the sources for the stories about the bounty program.
U.S. intelligence operatives in Afghanistan obtained information about the alleged bounty program while conducting interrogations of captured Taliban fighters, the Times reported. U.S. intelligence later obtained evidence that a bank account linked to Russian military intelligence made payments to accounts used by the Taliban.
McKenzie, a Marine general, told ABC that reports about possible Russian bounties have lingered “for a while,” but he said the information had “very very low levels of authenticity about them.”
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