Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley has told the US House Armed Services Committee that military intelligence agencies have yet to confirm reports about the alleged Russian bounties offered to Taliban militants to kill American soldiers.
"We’re going to get to the bottom of this bounty thing. If in fact there are bounties, I’m an outraged general, just like every one of us in uniform is. That’s a real big deal. We don’t have that level of fidelity yet, but we’re still looking", Milley said in congressional testimony on Thursday.
He added that even though they are in the know about "arms, weapons, [and] support, in the case of the Russians, we do not have concrete collaborating intelligence evidence to show directing", which the general said is "a big difference".
Milley also focused on the US response to the issue which is "at the strategic level", wondering if there should be "diplomatic, and informational and economic […] sanctions" as well as "démarches, […] phone calls, pressure, [and] those sorts of things".
"[…] I can tell you that some of that is done. Are we doing as much as we could or should? Perhaps not, not only to the Russians but to others", he noted.
The general underscored that a probe into the issue is underway and that "I and the [defence] secretary [Mark Esper] and others are taking it seriously".
According to Milley, if the Department of Defence finds out the report is true, they "will take action".
Moscow Rejects Taliban-Related Collusion Allegations
He spoke after the Russian Foreign Ministry last week reiterated that allegations about "collusion" between Russia and the Taliban hold no water.
"We need evidence, but there is no such proof. These are unfounded allegations", Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Zamir Kabulov emphasised.
He was echoed by ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova who stated that Moscow has never delivered weapons to the Taliban, adding that "Russia only supplied arms to the legitimate government of Afghanistan, something that is perfectly well known".
The statement followed Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman admitting that the US Department of Defence "has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent [collusion] allegations found in open-source reports".
This was preceded by The New York Times citing unnamed government sources as saying last month that US President Donald Trump was presented with an intelligence report alleging that Moscow may have offered bounties to the Taliban for the killing of US soldiers.
Trump denied that he was briefed on the matter, adding that Vice President Mike Pence and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows were also not given information about the allegations. POTUS slammed The New York Times for spreading what he described as fake news.
The allegations were also earlier denied both by Moscow and the Taliban, with the Kremlin slamming the reports as "nonsense" and the militant group dubbing them an attempt to obstruct the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.
*The Taliban is a terrorist organisation banned in Russia and many other states