US President Donald Trump on Sunday denied being briefed about reported bounty by Russia against American troops in Afghanistan.
In a pair of tweets, Trump said neither Vice President Mike Pence nor Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, have been told “about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an ‘anonymous source’ by the Fake News @nytimes.”
His denial came two days after The New York Times reported that a Russian military intelligence unit secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces, including American troops in Afghanistan.
The Times said Trump and the White House National Security Council gathered in late March to discuss the matter and weighed several responses, including a diplomatic complaint to Moscow demanding an end to the practice and escalating a series of sanctions.
“Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us,” Trump tweeted, referring to remarks of Taliban and Russian mission in the US that said they had nothing to do with the explosive allegations.
“Nobody’s been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration. With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine – Where’s Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their ‘source’?” Trump added.
On Saturday, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also denied the report from the Times, saying “the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the President nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence”.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Taliban strongly rejected the reported claims.
“These rumors are being circulated to create hurdles for the departure of American troops, to weaken and confuse advocates of peace in America and to attribute the great heroism and achievements of the Afghans to foreigner circles,” Zabihullah Mujahid said Saturday.
The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C. called the allegations “baseless and anonymous,” saying they “have already led to direct threats to the life of employees of the Russian Embassies in Washington D.C. and London”.
According to the The Times report citing anonymous officials, the US has known for months that the Russian unit covertly offered rewards for 2019 attacks and some Afghan militants are believed to have collected bounty money.
Attacks in 2019 killed 20 American troops in Afghanistan but it is unclear which killings were under suspicion.