WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said he frequently discusses Afghanistan with his counterparts in Moscow. But he punted on questions about intelligence regarding Russians offering bounties to target and kill U.S. service members in the war-torn country.
"I don't want to comment about the intelligence," Pompeo said during a State Department press briefing. "CIA put out a statement, DNI put out a statement, and I think the intelligence community handled this incredibly well," he said.
"We see threats in our intelligence reporting to our soldiers stationed all over the world, every single day," the nation's top diplomat added, saying that Russia's malign affairs in Afghanistan were not new.
"The Russians have been selling small arms that put Americans at risk there for 10 years, we've objected to it," he said, "I talk with them about this each time, stop this."
Pompeo's comments come after The New York Times reported that a U.S. intelligence assessment said Russia offered bounties to target and kill American troops in Afghanistan.
"We've taken the threat and the president's taken the threat to our forces in Afghanistan incredibly serious throughout the entire duration of this administration," said Pompeo, who was CIA director and an Army officer before leading the Department of State.
In a statement issued just before midnight, the Pentagon said Monday that the intelligence regarding the bounties has not been confirmed.
"The Department of Defense continues to evaluate intelligence that Russian GRU operatives were engaged in malign activity against United States and coalition forces in Afghanistan. To date, DOD has no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations found in open-source reports," Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a statement. GRU is a Russian military intelligence group that has been accused of interfering in the 2016 U.S. election.
"Regardless, we always take the safety and security of our forces in Afghanistan — and around the world — most seriously and therefore continuously adopt measures to prevent harm from potential threats," Hoffman added.
Earlier this week, Pompeo warned the Taliban's main negotiator during a videoconference call not to attack American citizens amid the bounty reports.
The Monday call, between Pompeo and the Taliban's deputy leader and chief negotiator, Mullah Baradar, focused on the full implementation of the Doha agreement, according to a State Department statement.
The Doha accord, signed by the U.S. and the Taliban in February, plans for the withdrawal of foreign military forces from Afghanistan in exchange for security guarantees and a reduction in fighting.
"The Secretary made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said in a Tuesday statement.