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Top Pentagon Officials: We Are Yet ‘Unable To Corroborate’ Report On Russian Bounty Scheme

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WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 09: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley (R) and US Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (L) testify before the US House Armed Services Committee hearing on 'Department of Defense Authorities and Roles Related to Civilian Law Enforcement', July 9, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

The U.S. Intelligence Community has yet to corroborate reports of a Russian bounty killing scheme targeting American soldiers.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared before the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday to testify over the alleged Russian operation. The senior administration officials told lawmakers that the bounty scheme has not been confirmed or connected to the deaths of any US troops.

“All the defense intelligence agencies have been unable to corroborate that report,” Esper told the committee, according to ABC News.

“As of today, right now, we don’t have cause and effect linkages to a Russian bounty program causing U.S. Military casualties,” Milley said. “However, we are still looking. We’re not done. We’re going to run this thing to ground.”

“If it is bounties, I am outraged, just like every one of us in uniform is,” Milley continued, promising retribution if such a program is found to exist. “If these bounties are directed by the government of Russia to kill American soldiers, that is a big deal. We don’t have that level of fidelity yet. We are still looking.”

The New York Times originally reported the alleged Russian bounty scheme in a June 26 article that claimed President Trump was briefed on the matter earlier in the year. In a subsequent report, the newspaper backed off that claim and reported that information on the alleged Russian bounty scheme was included in a written briefing to the president in February.

In a July 3 report, the NYT noted that the operation, if it exists, was likely not approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin, though lower-level officials may have pushed the operation forward without his knowing.

“There is no evidence to date that Mr. Putin signed off on any program to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even independent experts say they strongly doubt he would have done so,” the NYT reported.

The White House, Department of Defense, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence have all said that the alleged bribery scheme is still being investigated.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, who heads U.S. Central Command, said Tuesday he had heard reports that Russian agents were offering members of the Afghan terror group the Taliban payment in exchange for the lives of troops from the U.S. and its allies.

“I found it very worrisome,” McKenzie said of the reports. “I didn’t find that there was a causative link there” between the alleged bounty program and the killings of any U.S. troops.

“We should always remember, the Russians are not our friends,” McKenzie continued, noting that Moscow has been a supplier of money and weapons to the Taliban in the past. “And they do not wish us well, and we just need to remember that at all times when we evaluate that intelligence.”

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