Top US general doubtful Russian bounties led to American deaths in Afghanistan


A top Pentagon official on Tuesday said he believes there were no U.S. troop deaths as a result of reported Russian efforts to pay Taliban militants to kill American forces in Afghanistan, though said he found such intelligence to be “worrisome.”

“I found it very worrisome. I didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” U.S. Central Command head Gen. Frank McKenzie told reporters in telephone interview, according to The Associated Press.

McKenzie, the top U.S. general for the Middle East, said the Defense Department did not up its defenses in Afghanistan after the reported information emerged, but said he asked his intelligence staff to look into the matter.

The four-star general’s comments are the most a defense official has said publicly on the topic.

President Trump and administration officials have sought to downplay reporting last month by The New York Times and The Washington Post that said the U.S. intelligence community had concluded months ago that an arm of the Russian military intelligence service had offered financial incentives to Taliban-backed fighters to kill U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. 

The president has said he was not briefed on the Russian threats because the intelligence was not credible, though media outlets reported that the information was included in an intelligence brief for Trump in late February.

Trump has since received bipartisan pushback from lawmakers demanding answers over the threats and the administration’s response, with calls for all-member briefings and new sanctions against Russia.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee has invited Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to appear before a Thursday hearing on how the administration is handling the possible danger, though it is unclear if he will attend.

McKenzie, meanwhile, echoed years-long assertions from American and Afghan officials that Russia was involved in efforts to undermine the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

“We should always remember, the Russians are not our friends,” McKenzie said from the Middle East. “They are not our friends in Afghanistan. And they do not wish us well, and we just need to remember that at all times when we evaluate that intelligence.”

Tags Donald Trump Mike Pompeo russian bounties Taliban War in Afghanistan
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