Top officials at the Pentagon have determined allegations that Russia paid the Taliban to kill American service members are false.
The claim comes after a 2-month investigation into the claims, which were reported by American media outlets. After the initial story broke, Democratic politicians and personalities railed President Trump over the story claiming he was responsible for allowing the bounties to persist.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, said he was not convinced the rumored stories were true.
“It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,” he said via NBC News, noting the investigation was still ongoing. “We continue to look for that evidence. I just haven’t seen it yet. But … it’s not a closed issue.”
Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, echoed these comments.
After saying he was initially very concerned and worried by the claims, Milley said he hasn’t seen enough evidence to support them.
“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.”
— Ronna McDaniel (@GOPChairwoman) September 17, 2020
According to NBC News, the Trump administration has mostly shrugged the rumors and President Trump did not bring them up to Russian President Vladimir Putin:
A U.S. military official familiar with the intelligence added that after a review of the intelligence around each attack against Americans going back several years, none have been tied to any Russian incentive payments.
The suggestion of a Russian bounty program began, another source directly familiar with the matter said, with a raid by CIA paramilitary officers that captured Taliban documents describing Russian payments.
A Taliban detainee told the CIA such a program existed, the source said, although the term “bounty” was never used. Later, the CIA was able to document financial transfers between Russian military intelligence and the Taliban, and establish there had been travel by key Russian officers to Afghanistan and by relevant Taliban figures to Russia.
That intelligence was reviewed by CIA Director Gina Haspel and placed in Trump’s daily intelligence briefing book earlier this year, officials have said. The source described the intelligence as compelling, but meriting further investigation. Nonetheless, current and former U.S. officials have said, many CIA officers and analysts came to believe a bounty program existed. They concluded that the Russians viewed it as a proportional response to the U.S. arming of Ukrainian units fighting Russian forces in Crimea, the source said.