Allegations that Russia worked with the Taliban to place bounties on U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East are not corroborated by any available intelligence, according to a top general in Afghanistan.
“It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, told NBC News.
“We continue to look for that evidence. I just haven’t seen it yet. But…it’s not a closed issue,” he said.
McKenzie repeated similar claims made by Gen. Mark Milley in July that data supporting the allegations was inconclusive and not enough to act on.
“I found what they presented to me very concerning, very worrisome. I just couldn’t see the final connection, so I sent my guys back and said, look, keep digging. So we have continued to dig and look because this involves potential threats to U.S. forces, it’s open,” he said. “I just haven’t seen anything that closes that gap yet.”
New York Times (NYT) reported in June that Russia allegedly offered the Taliban money to kill U.S. troops, citing unnamed sources. The report claims Trump was made aware of Russian bounties as early as 2019. The NYT describes a broad range of unidentified underlying data to support the claims, including electronic wire transfers and personal comments from members of the Taliban confirming Russia offered money for killing American troops.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied any connection while speaking to the NYT.
“These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless-our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources. That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them.”
Defense Secretary Mark Esper denied getting briefed on the situation, according to NPR.
“To the best of my recollection, I have not received a briefing that included the word ‘bounty,'” Esper said.
“If it was a credible report, a credible, corroborated report, that used those words, certainly it would have been brought to my attention by chain of command, by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and others, for action. We would have taken upon that action an interagency effort to make sure we addressed it,” Esper said, per NPR.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied allegations that Trump was briefed on the matter, as the Times claims. (RELATED: Trump Says He Didn’t Bring Up Alleged Taliban Bounties On US Soldiers In Call With Putin)
“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” McEnany said, according to CNBC. “While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the president nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Trump betrayed troops after Trump claimed he wasn’t briefed on the situation and refused to blame Russia for the unsubstantiated allegations.
“His entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond pale,” Biden said during a virtual town hall. “It’s betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way. It’s a betrayal of every single American family with a loved one serving in Afghanistan or anywhere overseas.”
Biden also tweeted that Trump “did nothing.”
If the reports are true, Donald Trump either read his briefings about the Russian bounties and did nothing — or he didn’t read them at all. Either way, it’s an unjustifiable dereliction of duty.
The American people deserve answers. https://t.co/LuDqIUrjhP
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 1, 2020
New York Democratic Rep. Gregory W. Meeks called the allegations “credible,” according to the NYT.
“It is outrageous to me that we ask our servicemen and women to put their lives in danger for our peace and security, and yet the administration won’t believe a credible piece of intelligence putting bounties on their heads. How was Congress never briefed until the claim was leaked to the press at great risk to whistle-blowers?”