Russia’s foreign minister mocks intel on bounties to Taliban for killing American troops

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MOSCOW — Russia’s top diplomat on Friday dismissed U.S. intelligence information alleging that Moscow offered bounties to the Taliban for killing American troops as a product of election year politics in Washington.

U.S. intelligence officials said information about Russia’s alleged bounties on the heads of troops in Afghanistan was included in an intelligence brief for President Donald Trump in late February. The White House has denied Trump received the information at that time, arguing that the intelligence wasn’t credible enough to bring to the president’s attention.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the intelligence claims as a sham. The intelligence assessments that Russia offered bounties were first reported by The New York Times, then confirmed to The Associated Press by American intelligence officials and others with knowledge of the matter.

“There has been a hype in the United States over speculation on alleged ties between Russia and the Taliban and our alleged push on them to fight against U.S. servicemen or even a reward for their heads,” Lavrov said during a videoconference on foreign policy issues. “I can only say that the entire thing has hinged on unscrupulous speculations, and no concrete facts have been presented whatsoever.”

He charged that the intelligence claims were floated to hurt the Trump administration before the U.S. presidential election in November.

“The entire story looks like it has been written and designed specifically for the purpose of the domestic political struggle in the run-up to the election,” he said. “Once again, they’re trying to attack the incumbent administration and discredit everything it’s doing, especially on the Russian track.”

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Lavrov noted that Russia welcomed a February peace deal between the U.S. and the Taliban aimed at ending the protracted war in Afghanistan.

“We have provided assistance via our channels to help this agreement work,” the Russian foreign minister said.

Top Pentagon leaders told U.S. Congress on Thursday that reports of Russia offering Taliban militants bounties for killing Americans weren’t corroborated by defense intelligence agencies, but said they are looking into it and the U.S. will respond if necessary. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that the threats were taken seriously, but haven’t yet been found credible.

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