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US General: No Evidence That 'Bounties' Have Led to Troops' Deaths

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The top U.S. general for the Middle East said Tuesday that the intelligence suggesting that Russia may have paid Taliban militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan was worrisome, but he is not convinced that any bounties resulted in U.S. military deaths.

Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command, said in a telephone interview with a group of reporters that the U.S. did not increase force protection measures in Afghanistan as a result of the information, although he asked his intelligence staff to dig into the matter more.

“I found it very worrisome. I didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” McKenzie said. He is the first Pentagon official to speak publicly at length about the issue.

According to U.S. intelligence officials, information that Russia may have offered bounties to Taliban militants for killing American troops was included in an intelligence brief for President Donald Trump in late February.

The White House, however, has denied Trump was briefed at that time, arguing that the intelligence was not credible enough to bring to his attention.

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McKenzie said that while he could draw no direct link between any potential payments and U.S. casualties, it’s common that intelligence is not definitive.

“We should always remember, the Russians are not our friends,” according to McKenzie, who is traveling in the Middle East.

“They are not our friends in Afghanistan. And they do not wish us well, and we just need to remember that at all times when we evaluate that intelligence.”

He said there was no need to beef up security for troops there because the U.S. already takes “extreme force protections measures” in Afghanistan.

Do you believe that Russia is paying the Taliban to kill U.S. troops?

“Whether the Russians are paying the Taliban or not, over the past several years, the Taliban have done their level best to carry out operations against us.”

The U.S. signed an agreement with the Taliban in February, mapping out the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by May 2021.

That date would be nearly 20 years after American forces invaded the country after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S. by al-Qaida militants.

Trump has said he wants to pull all U.S. forces out of Afghanistan.

The U.S. withdrew several thousand troops this year, and now has about 8,600 there.

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Additional troop withdrawal is contingent on the Taliban’s commitment that Islamic extremist groups, such as al-Qaida and the Islamic State group, not be able to use the country as a base to carry out attacks on the U.S.

Asked about the potential for pulling more U.S. troops out, McKenzie said he still does not believe the conditions allow for a significant reduction yet.


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