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Russia’s defense minister says US intel of Russian bounties is a ‘sham’

U.S. Air Force Capt., Matthew Zahler, and Major Jason Helton, air mobility liaison officer, uses a translator to talk to Afghan border police about the best location to establish a drop zone near their remote compound in southern afghanistan. Capt. Zahler relies on local knowledge of the area in order to avoid establishing the drop zone on old mine fields and areas used by Taliban fighters. (U.S. Air Force/Released)
July 17, 2020

A top Russian diplomat dismissed U.S. intelligence claims that Russian spies offered bounties to the Taliban for killing American soldiers, calling the assertions a “sham.”

“There has been a hype in the United States over speculation on alleged ties between Russia and the Taliban and our alleged push on them to fight against U.S. servicemen or even a reward for their heads,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week during a videoconference on foreign policy issues, as reported by The Associated Press. “I can only say that the entire thing has hinged on unscrupulous speculations, and no concrete facts have been presented whatsoever.”

The intelligence assessments were first reported by The New York Times, who claimed U.S. intelligence officials included information about Russia’s alleged bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan in a February intelligence brief for President Donald Trump. The White House denied that President Trump was given the intelligence at that time, saying the information lacked credibility.

Lavrov said the intelligence claims were a sham, asserting that they were created to hurt the Trump administration prior to the U.S. presidential election in November. He also added that Russia “welcomed a February peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban aimed at ending the protracted war in Afghanistan,” the Associated Press reported.

“The entire story looks like it has been written and designed specifically for the purpose of the domestic political struggle in the run-up to the election,” he said. “Once again, they’re trying to attack the incumbent administration and discredit everything it’s doing, especially on the Russian track.”

While top Pentagon leaders told U.S. Congress that reports of Russia offering the Taliban bounties for killing Americans were not corroborated by defense intelligence agencies, they are looking into it and will respond if necessary.

“In the case of the Russians, we do not have concrete, corroborating evidence, intelligence, to show ‘directing.’ That’s a big difference. If we did, it would be a different response, too,” said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Milley said Russia has “long worked against the U.S. in Afghanistan” and given support to the Taliban, but the existence of bounties have not been proven. He added that while Russia continues to back the Taliban, there is no evidence it directed attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Earlier this month, President Trump took to Twitter to address the claims.

“The Russia bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party,” he said. “The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited [New York Times] has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX!”