Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan: Intelligence Has Not Corroborated Report on Russian Bounties

Months after The New York Times first reported that Russian officials paid Taliban fighters bounties to attack U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, the commander overseeing forces in Afghanistan says the intelligence officials have not corroborated that report.  In an interview with NBC News, Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, said, “It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me.” He added, “We continue to look for that evidence … I just haven’t seen it yet. But … it’s not a closed issue.” Additionally, McKenzie said, “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.” Still, he said he hasn’t “seen anything that closes that gap yet.” In June, the Times reported that in June that Russian officials paid bounties to Taliban fighters to attack U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. The report read, “Islamist militants, or armed criminal elements closely associated with them, are believed to have collected some bounty money, the officials said. Twenty Americans were killed in combat in Afghanistan in 2019, but it was not clear which killings were under suspicion.” However, shortly after publication, the Defense Department said it had not corroborated the information detailed in the report. “To date, DOD has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said. He continued, “Regardless, we always take the safety and security of our forces in Afghanistan—and around the world—most seriously and therefore continuously adopt measures to prevent harm from potential threats.” Over the summer, Democrats quickly demanded answers on the report and whether or not President Donald Trump was briefed on the bounties.  In a July hearing before the House Armed Services Committee, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that “all the defense intelligence agencies have been unable to corroborate that report.” And Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, committed to launch an investigation into the report, “We’re not done. We’re going to run this thing to ground.” While the evidence has not corroborated the report thus far according to McKenzie, he said it would want to know if Russian officials paid bounties to militants to attack U.S. soldiers, “I want to know, because I won’t hesitate to take action if that’s the case.” However, he added, “I just haven’t seen it. I just haven’t seen it. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, but nothing was out there that I could grasp that connect together in a pattern that I would consider actionable.”

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