Afghanistan: US general 'not convinced' troops were killed for Russian bounties

US officials say intelligence suggests that Russia may have paid Taliban-affiliated militants to kill coalition forces

Gen Frank McKenzie, centre, said he was not convinced that Russia paid bounties to Taliban who killed US and coalition troops Afghanistan. AP
Gen Frank McKenzie, centre, said he was not convinced that Russia paid bounties to Taliban who killed US and coalition troops Afghanistan. AP

A US general said on Tuesday that he was not convinced any Russian bounties resulted in the deaths of US troops in Afghanistan, but he acknowledged his concerns about Russian intentions towards his forces.

US officials said they acquired intelligence suggesting that Russia may have paid bounties to Taliban-affiliated militants to kill US-led coalition forces in Afghanistan, but stressed that the intelligence was not conclusive.

The Pentagon said it had "no corroborating evidence" to validate the allegations, which Moscow denied.

Marine General Frank McKenzie, the head of US Central Command, made the US military's caution clear in the most extensive remarks to date about the issue from a defence official.

"I'm a theatre commander and I found it [the intelligence] very worrisome. I just didn't find that there was a causative link there," Gen McKenzie told reporters, according to a transcript released by Central Command.

Pressed on whether he believed Russian payments led to deaths, Gen McKenzie said: "No, I'm not convinced of that. I'm just not."

He said that battlefield intelligence was often inconclusive.

"But in this case, there just wasn't enough," Gen

McKenzie said.

"I sent the intelligence guys back to continue to dig on it. And I believe they're continuing to dig right now."

The Washington Post reported that bounties were believed to have led to the deaths of several services members in Afghanistan. The New York Times said investigators focused on two attacks, including an April 2019 bombing outside an air base that killed three marines.

US President Donald Trump, a Republican who has worked to cultivate warmer relations with Moscow, downplayed the significance of the intelligence and denied being briefed on the matter before it was reported by news outlets last month.

The US military suspected Russia of providing support, including weapons, to elements of the Taliban. Gen McKenzie said that the Russians were "not our friends in Afghanistan and they do not wish us well".

He said that whether the Russians were paying them or not, the Taliban "have done their level best to carry out operations against us".

"So nothing has practically changed on the ground in terms of force protection, because we have a very high force protection standard now," he said.

Updated: July 8, 2020 02:06 PM

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