Pompeo pushes back on Russian bounty reports
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday accused journalists of spreading misinformation related to reports that Russia offered bounties to Taliban-backed fighters to kill U.S. service members in Afghanistan.
The secretary further refused to discuss what he knew of intelligence briefings about the bounties, saying such public discussions put American soldiers at risk.
“A lot of what you said suggests knowledge that I don’t think you actually have,” Pompeo told one reporter who asked about the Russian bounties.
“I’m not going to put at risk the young men and women of Afghanistan in the same way that some news organizations have done. … And you ought not be part of that,” he told another reporter.
President Trump has dismissed as a “hoax” news reports that Russia was incentivizing the murder of coalition forces in Afghanistan, first reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post.
In response to a question about whether Trump should have been told about Russian bounties on offer, Pompeo shot back, “You have six things in your question there that are just, I’m not going to go there.”
He added, “You’ve got assumptions about things that just don’t reflect what it is that we’ve actually seen and done.”
“I can assure you, that whatever reporting it is that you’re referring to, that we responded in precisely the correct way,” he said, adding that U.S. forces were aware of threats and their credibility.
“The fact that the Russians are engaged in Afghanistan in a way that’s adverse to the United States is nothing new,” he said. “We took this seriously, we handled it appropriately.”
Pompeo said the U.S. has told Russia for more than a decade to “stop” selling small arms in Afghanistan that put Americans at risk.
Pompeo defended the administration’s record on Russia, saying that the Department of Defense has $7 billion in resources countering threats from Moscow, pointed to the U.S. push for an updated and modern arms control treating following withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and that the U.S. has pushback against Russia in Syria.
On Trump’s offer to invite the Russians to the upcoming, high-level Group of 7 meeting — from which Russia was kicked out for annexing Crimea in 2014 — Pompeo said, “We need to talk to the Russians” and that decision rests with the president.
“When they were in this, they were causing problems. Out of it and they still continue to present risks to us,” he said, adding that it was “really critical” to continue engaging with the Russians.
He further said the president takes seriously any threats to American forces.
“This president has been vicious in securing American freedom and protecting American soldiers,” he said.
Intelligence officials in recent days have offered rare public statements questioning the integrity of the reports about the bounties. Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Ratcliffe said in a statement that the agency is “still investigating the alleged intelligence referenced in recent media reporting.”
Republican lawmakers who received briefings from the DNI said the media reports were “inaccurate” or based on “unverified” intelligence.
Democrats have pointed to the allegations as troubling and call for more efforts to verify the reports.