By Lolita C. Baldor The Associated Press
July 7, 2020 – 3: 15 pm
WASHINGTON — The best U.S. overall for the Middle East said Tuesday the intelligence suggesting that Russia may have compensated Taliban militants to kill American troops in Afghanistan was painful, but he is not convinced that any bounties led to U.S. military deaths.
Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command said in a telephone interview with a small group of reporters that the U.S. did not raise force protection measures in Afghanistan as a consequence of the data, even though he asked his intelligence staff to dig into the subject more.
“I found it rather worrisome. I didn’t find there was a causative connection ,” said McKenzie, who is the very first Pentagon official to speak openly at length concerning the matter. He warned, however, where there have been many reports that it has supported Taliban fighters over the years with weapons and resources that Russia has been a danger in Afghanistan.
According to U.S. intelligence officials, data which Russia offered bounties into Taliban militants for murdering 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 moment, arguing that the intellect was not plausible enough to attract his attention.
McKenzie reported that while he can draw no immediate connection between any possible payments and U.S. casualties, it is common that intellect isn’t definitive.
“We should always remember, that the Russians are not our friends,” said McKenzie, who is traveling in the Middle East. “They are not our friends in Afghanistan. And they don’t wish us well, and we just need to bear in mind that at all times once we evaluate that intelligence.”
He explained there wasn’t any requirement to beef up security for troops there since the U.S. already takes”extreme force protections measures” in Afghanistan. “Whether the Russians are paying the Taliban or not, within the past several years, the Taliban have done their level best to carry out operations against us”
Just days after the February intelligence briefing, the U.S. signed an agreement with the Taliban, mapping out the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan by May 2021. That date could be nearly 20 years after American forces invaded the country following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the U.S. by al-Qaida militants.
Trump had repeatedly said he would like to possess all U.S. forces from Afghanistan. His phone in May to get a quick departure, fueled speculation he wants troops out by the November election, as part of his attempts to end U.S. involvement in what he calls”endless wars.
The U.S. pulled a few million troops out this season, and now has about 8,600 there. Additional troop withdrawal is contingent on the Taliban’s commitment that extremist groups, such as al-Qaida along with the Islamic State group, Be Unable to use the nation as a foundation to carry out attacks around the U.S.
Asked about the potential for pulling more U.S. troops out, McKenzie said he does not feel the conditions allow for a substantial reduction yet.