DoD says there's 'no corroborating evidence' validating Russian bounty allegations

Elizabeth Howe
June 30, 2020 - 11:34 am
Mission in Afghanistan

DVIDS

By Elizabeth Howe and Abbie Bennett

The Department of Defense released a statement close to midnight Monday saying it has "no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations" regarding Russian bounties on U.S. troops.

"The Department of Defense continues to evaluate intelligence that Russian GRU operatives were engaged in malign activity against United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan," the Pentagon said in a statement released about 11 hours after officials said they had "nothing to provide."

"To date, DoD has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports," the statement reads. 

Last week, The New York Times reported that American intelligence showed evidence that Russian officials allegedly offered and paid Taliban-connected militants bounties in exchange for targeting U.S. troops in Afghanistan. There was also evidence, the Times reported, that intelligence regarding such payments was provided to senior officials in President Donald Trump's administration as early as March and that the president was made aware of the alleged threat. Now, the Associated Press is reporting that top officials in the White House were aware of this intelligence as early as the beginning of 2019.

On Sunday, the president denied that he knew of the threat against U.S. troops on Twitter. He said intelligence officials "reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or (Vice President Mike Pence). Possibly another fabricated Russia hoax." 

Lawmakers were not satisfied with the president's explanation and dismissal of the issue as a potential "hoax." Key Capitol Hill lawmakers -- both Democrat and Republican -- are demanding answers with a bipartisan call for an emergency briefing. 

Congress demands answers after reports of Russian bounties on American troops

By Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., made her own request, asking that all House lawmakers get answers. 

“The administration’s disturbing silence and inaction endanger the lives of our troops and our coalition partners,” she wrote in a letter to the White House. “The president’s refusal to stand up to the Russians also jeopardizes lives in the region, as the Afghan government and the United States are engaged in critical peace negotiations with the Taliban ... Congress needs to know ... about this significant threat to American troops and our allies and what options are available to hold Russia accountable." 

While the Pentagon offered no answers, the statement released by the Defense Department emphasized the care it takes in maintaining safe operations in Afghanistan.

"We always take the safety and security of our forces in Afghanistan — and around the world — most seriously and therefore continuously adopt measures to prevent harm from potential threats," the statement reads. 

U.S. officials are now investigating whether any U.S. troops were killed as a result of an alleged Russian bounty -- in particular, the April 2019 deaths of three Marines in Afghanistan. Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, and Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25 were killed when a car bomb detonated near their armored vehicles as they returned to Bagram Airfield, the Associated Press reported.

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Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.

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