Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged Wednesday he had spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the topic of Russia placing bounties on American troops in Afghanistan.
“You spoke with the Russian foreign minister this week. Did the reported bounties on U.S. troops come up and/or Russia’s support for the Taliban?” Pompeo was asked in an interview with The Hill. “Yes, of course,” Pompeo replied. “We talked about Afghanistan a great deal and the need to achieve the outcome that President Trump has set forth, which is to get America’s role there greatly reduced as quickly as possible, ultimately get our combat forces out of Afghanistan in a way that leads to a peaceful reconciliation among all the Afghan people.”
The New York Times reported in June that Russia had been placing bounties on U.S. troops killed by members of the Taliban. President Donald Trump denied any knowledge of the program, despite reportedly receiving a written briefing on the subject in February.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied the accuracy of the intelligence as recently on Monday, telling a reporter who asked about the issue, “I’m not going to answer a question based on unverified intelligence.” She added, “What you’re getting at is uncorroborated intelligence, and you’re treating it as if it were true. To this day, there are varying views on the Russian bounty intelligence.”
Pompeo said he had spoken with his ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, and he believed the U.S. was “making real progress” in the region.
“I made clear to the Russians we needed their support in that effort as well,” Pompeo added. “We have made clear to our Russian counterparts that we ought to work together to get a more sovereign, more independent, peaceful Afghanistan. We think it’s in Russia’s best interest, we think it’s in China’s best interest, we know it’s the Afghan people’s best interest, and President Trump is working diligently to make sure we do that in a way that protects the American homeland and gets our boys and girls home.”
Views of the matter haven’t adhered neatly to partisan lines. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential race, said in an interview last week that he believed the media had “overhyped” the issue. “I know that our military commanders on the ground did not think that it was as serious a problem as the newspapers were reporting and television was reporting,” he said in an interview. “It got kind of out of control before we really had an understanding of what had happened. I’m not sure we fully understand now.”
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org