Trump dismisses report of Russian ‘bounties’ on US soldiers
WASHINGTON, July 30, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday dismissed reports that Russia has been paying the Taliban bounties to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan and said he’d not raised the issue with President Vladimir Putin.
“I have never discussed it with him,” he told Axios in an interview.
Trump talked by phone with Putin as recently as last Thursday.
In all, he has spoken with the Kremlin leader at least eight times since late February, when intelligence flagging alleged Russian bounties was included in the secret daily presidential briefing, Axios reported.
According to Trump, he never read that intelligence, although he told Axios in the interview recorded Tuesday that he does read his daily briefing papers.
The White House says he was only told verbally about the supposed plot to encourage killing of Americans after The New York Times published a story at the end of June.
Trump told Axios that the allegations “never reached my desk” and that US intelligence “didn’t think it was real.”
In fact, US media reported that different agencies are rather in disagreement over whether they think the bounty scheme — which the Times reported went as high as payments of $100,000 for soldiers killed — was real.
In comments to reporters at the White House on Wednesday, Trump doubled down, saying that he didn’t take the story seriously and had little reason to suspect Moscow.
Citing the calamity of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s, Trump said Russia would have no interest in helping the Taliban. “I don’t know why they’d be doing it,” he said.
If it turned out to be true, Trump said he “would respond appropriately.” Trump is also dismissing reports that Russia is arming the Taliban, which has fought US-led forces in Afghanistan to a standstill and is now negotiating for their withdrawal.
The top US commander in the country in 2018, General John Nicholson, openly accused Moscow of supplying the Taliban, saying “we know that the Russians are involved.”
After Trump’s latest comments, White House director of strategic communications Alyssa Farah said the bounty reports “were based on unverified intel. But we still take it extremely seriously.”
“The safety of U.S. forces is the President’s top priority in Afghanistan,” she tweeted. “Our country has seen the very real consequences of overreacting to unverified intelligence in the past. @realDonaldTrump will not repeat these same mistakes.”
A spokesman for Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, called Trump’s comments “despicable.”
“Months after the US intelligence community sounded the alarm — to Donald Trump and to our allies — that Russia was placing bounties on the heads of American servicemen and women in a warzone, our president continues to turn his back,” Andrew Bates said.