General Frank McKenzie, the commander who oversees US troops in Afghanistan, has told NBC News that a detailed review of all available intelligence failed to corroborate the allegations of the Russian government paying bounties to Taliban forces to kill American forces in Afghanistan.
“It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,” McKenzie admitted, adding that the US military continues to look for the evidence, which he “just has not seen yet” and that “it's not a closed issue”.
“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 US forces, it's open. I just haven't seen anything that closes that gap yet,” he pointed out.
Top US General Vows to ‘Get to the Bottom’ of Russian Bounties Report
The remarks came after US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley pledged in mid-July to “get to the bottom” of intelligence on the Russian bounties report, also acknowledging that US has no direct evidence on the matter.
“If, in fact, these bounties [were] directed by the government of Russia or any other institution to kill American soldiers - that is a big deal. We do not have this level of fidelity yet, but we are still looking,” he told the US House Armed Services Committee.
In June, The New York Times cited unnamed sources as saying that President Donald Trump had been presented with an intelligence report claiming that Russia could have paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to assassinate US and coalition troops in Afghanistan.
POTUS denied that he was briefed on the matter, tweeting that “the Russia Bounty story is just another made-up-by-fake-news tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party”.
The allegations were also rejected both by Moscow and the Taliban, with the Kremlin slamming the reports as "nonsense" and the militant group noting that its actions were not related to foreign intelligence agencies or governments.
The Taliban also described the report as a “fake news”, aimed at obstructing the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, in line with the Doha peace deal.
US-Taliban Peace Deal
In February, the US and the Taliban signed a long-awaited peace agreement in the Qatari capital of Doha, which envisages the timetable of the US withdrawing some of its 13,000 troops from Afghanistan.
In return, the Taliban is obliged to take steps to prevent terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda*, from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the US and its allies.
*Taliban, al-Qaeda, terrorist groups banned in Russia and a number of other countries