Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, on Tuesday, July 7, expressed skepticism that intelligence of Russian bounties to Taliban extremists is tied to the deaths of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
“I found it very worrisome, I just didn’t find that there was a causative link there,” McKenzie told reporters. “The intel (intelligence) case wasn’t proved to me—it wasn’t proved enough that I’d take it to a court of law—and you know that’s often true in battlefield intelligence.”
McKenzie stressed, “Reports of this nature have been out there for a while, but it was very very low levels of authenticity about them. And so you just continue to plow through them and sort as you go forward.”
Citing unnamed sources, The New York Times first reported on the intelligence that Russia offered bounties to the Taliban for killing American troops and claimed that President Donald Trump had been briefed on it. Democrats revived old criticisms of the president’s approach to Russia, accusing him of ignoring his intelligence briefings entirely.
“There may be a reluctance to brief the president on things he doesn’t want to hear—that may be more true with respect to Putin and Putin’s Russia more than any other subject,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.
The White House has denied President Trump was briefed at that time because the U.S. intelligence community had not fully “verified” the information. The president said it was “all a made up Fake News Media Hoax started to slander me & the Republican Party.”
The Russia Bounty story is just another made up by Fake News tale that is told only to damage me and the Republican Party. The secret source probably does not even exist, just like the story itself. If the discredited @nytimes has a source, reveal it. Just another HOAX!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 1, 2020
McKenzie indicated that Russia has been a threat in Afghanistan for years and noted that whether or not it is paying the Taliban, the U.S. force protection levels in Afghanistan remain high.
Over the past several years, the Taliban has done its 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, and that force protection standard’s going to continue into the future,” he said.