Pentagon chief says ‘no corroborating evidence

The US Secretary of Defense has said that while the Pentagon takes all threats against US troops “very seriously,” there is so far no proof for the ever-shifting story that Russia paid bounties for the deaths of US soldiers.

In a statement on Tuesday, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the top military brass treats the security of the US military personnel, including in Afghanistan, as a high priority.

“I want to assure all of our service members that the Department takes very seriously any and all potential threats against US military personnel,” he said.

Esper noted that while he and others in the US military command seek to ensure that “the best intelligence” as well as weapons, gear and equipment are available to the troops on the ground, there is currently no “no corroborating evidence…to validate the recent allegations regarding malign activity by Russian personnel against US forces in Afghanistan.”

I want to assure all of our service members that we take seriously any and all potential threats against U.S. military personnel.

— @EsperDoD (@EsperDoD) July 1, 2020

The ‘bombshell’ bounty claim – initially reported by the New York Times last Friday and later picked up by the bulk of the mainstream media without so much as a hint of skepticism – alleged a sinister pact between Russia and Taliban-linked elements, possibly criminals. Largely based on the interviews with anonymous officials, the story initially alleged that US President Donald Trump had been briefed on the plot sometime in late March and did nothing in retaliation. Although the story was promptly dismissed by Moscow as nonsense, aimed at stalling the US military drawdown in Afghanistan, the Resistance took it at face value, spinning it as yet more ‘proof’ of Trump’s cozy ties with the Kremlin – this time, at the expense of US service members.

However, with the White House, the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) vehemently denying the briefing ever happened, the narrative has shifted. The latest version of the story now claims that the intelligence was included in one of Trump’s written presidential daily briefs in February. Moreover, after the Taliban itself refuted  the reports, saying that it did not need “encouragement” from any third party to carry out its raids, the NYT cited an official saying that the suspected recipients of the money are now believed to be “criminals closely associated with the Taliban.”

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