US President Donald Trump said that he was never briefed on intelligence that Russians offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing American troops.
“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,” Trump tweeted on Sunday morning.
“Everybody is denying it & there has not been any attack on us,” he added.
Casualty records, however, showed that the year of 2019 was the deadliest year for US service members in Afghanistan since 2014, with 22 American troops killed, reports Xinhua news agency.
The President’s tweets echoed Saturday’s White House statement on this matter, in which Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said several senior officials had confirmed that neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence was briefed on the intelligence.
McEnany also noted that the statement “does not speak to the merit of the alleged intelligence but to the inaccuracy of the New York Times story erroneously suggesting that President Trump was briefed on this matter”.
In a report on Friday, The New York Times said that Trump had been briefed on the intelligence that Russian intelligence units secretly offered bounties to Taliban-related militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan during US-Taliban peace talks.
The story also said the National Security Council discussed this issue at an inter-agency meeting in late March, while the White House thus far has not taken any actions to respond.
Democrats and former officials cited the story as fresh evidence of Trump’s disqualification as the President.
Former Vice President and the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Saturday criticized Trump’s failure to punish Russia as “a betrayal of the most sacred duty”.
Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton on Sunday said in an interview with CNN that the President’s tweet indicated “his fundamental focus is not the security of our forces … he’s saying well nobody told me, therefore, you can’t blame me”.
Others doubted the theory that Trump had not been briefed on this matter.
“I have trouble believing it, but as someone who got the presidential daily briefing for more than 7 years the idea that a POTUS wouldn’t be briefed on a Russian bounty on US troops is even more alarming,” tweeted Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security advisor in former President Barack Obama’s administration.
In a Sunday interview with ABC, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also expressed concern that some officials may have avoided bringing the issues to the president.
“We’ll find out he has briefed and it was in his daily brief, but if it were not, what does that say about the concern that those who briefed the President have about not going anywhere near the Russia issue with this President?.
“Something is very wrong here, but this must have an answer,” she added.
The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and the death toll of American service members has surpassed 2,400 in this longest war in Washington’s history.
Trump has long complained about the endlessness of the war and sought a full withdrawal from the country.
In the agreement signed in late February between the US and the Taliban, Washington said it would reduce its forces in Afghanistan to 8,600 within 135 days.
The agreement also called for the full withdrawal of the US military by May 2021 if the Taliban meets the conditions of the deal, including severing ties with terrorist groups.
Commander of US Central Command Kenneth McKenzie said earlier this month that the American military had reduced its troops level to 8,600 in Afghanistan, fulfilling its first phased pullout obligation under the deal.