Continuing the allegation of Russian bounty payments to Taliban to kill U.S. troops, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley both told the House Armed Services Committee that they’ve seen no corroboration of the claim, nor do they believe anyone was actually killed on the basis of it.
This allegation emerged last month in The New York Times and has been oft-repeated, despite a lack of evidence. Earlier this week, a poll showed a majority of Americans believe the claim, though the military has repeatedly said they just don’t have the evidence to defend it. Centcom’s commander has also recently doubted it.
Beyond military doubts, U.S. intelligence has also expressed major doubts, saying they have “low confidence” of the allegations. It is unclear why this continues, when between military leadership and intelligence community no one seems to be buying the story.
That said, Milley told the committee that if it turns out this claim is true, something that looks remotely unlikely, he said that the US would respond against Russia in some non-specific way.
Holding off on proof is the key here, however. The polls that showed the public supports the allegation also showed support for U.S. sanctions, or potentially military action against Russia. That all comes even with the evidence strongly pointing to this not being true.
Presumably the comments from officials preclude the US taking any hasty action, but the importance of polls, particularly in election years, could signal another round of worsening ties between the U.S. and Russia.
Russia, for its part, has denied any involvement in this allegation, and the Taliban has similarly denied taking any money to continue the fighting.