US President Donald Trump has denied he was ever briefed about an alleged Russian attempt to pay bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill Western forces, including US troops, in Afghanistan, blasting a report by The New York Times on the bounties.
On Friday, the Times, citing unnamed officials, published details of how US intelligence officials had reached the conclusion about the clandestine payments and then briefed Trump in March.
According to the report, US intelligence had concluded that a Russian military intelligence had offered rewards for successful attacks on American and coalition soldiers last year, and that militants reportedly collected some bounty money.
The report also said that the White House National Security Council conferred an interagency meeting in March to discuss the issue, adding the finding was also included in the President's Daily Brief.
On Sunday, however, Trump took to Twitter, denying the report, saying he was never briefed on the intelligence assessment.
"Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians, as reported through an 'anonymous source' by the Fake News @nytimes. Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us."
He also tweeted that "Nobody's been tougher on Russia than the Trump Administration," criticizing his predecessor Barack Obama, the Times, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
"With Corrupt Joe Biden & Obama, Russia had a field day, taking over important parts of Ukraine - Where's Hunter? Probably just another phony Times hit job, just like their failed Russia Hoax. Who is their 'source'?"
Meanwhile, the White House and Director of National Intelligence denied the report too.
Russia's Foreign Ministry also dismissed it, with its embassy in the US saying the claims had led to threats against diplomats. The embassy also accused the Times of promoting fake news.
The Taliban likewise denied having had any deal with Russian intelligence.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the Times that the group had never had "any such relations with any intelligence agency," calling the report an attempt to defame the group.
"These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence agency are baseless - our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources," he said. "That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don't attack them."
In 2019, 20 American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan but ever since Washington and the Taliban reached an agreement in February, there have been no reported attacks by the militant group on the US positions.
Meanwhile, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, part of the so-called Gang of Eight lawmakers who receive intelligence briefings frequently, said she did not know about the assessment and called for a briefing at Congress.
Pelosi also described the report and Trump's denial as more evidence of the Republican president ignoring allegations against Russia to accommodate President Vladimir Putin.
"There is something very wrong here. But this must have an answer," she said on ABC News.
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