White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Thursday there is not strong evidence that Russia allegedly offered bounties to the Taliban to target U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.
Psaki said a review by the intelligence committee conducted in the wake of explosive news reports last year about the allegation determined its veracity with only “low-to-moderate confidence.”
The press secretary said that assessment was due to the information coming from detainee reportings and the “challenging operating environment in Afghanistan.”
“It’s challenging to gather this intelligence and this data,” Psaki said during the daily press briefing. “While there is low-to-moderate assessment in these reports, we felt it was important for our intelligence community to look into it.”
The Kremlin has steadfastly denied the allegations that it proffered bounties though its military intelligence service, the GRU. However, Psaki said the intelligence community has higher confidence in other reports of the GRU’s involvement in the region.
“This information really puts the burden on Russian and the Russian government to explain their engagement here,” she said. “We still feel there are questions to be answered by the Russian government.”
The administration’s admission undercuts a narrative wielded by then-candidate Joe Biden against former President Donald Trump on the campaign trail. Biden repeatedly raised the possibility of Russian bounties as further evidence that Trump treated Russia with kid gloves at the expense of the military, and used it as a cudgel against him.
At the time, Trump had dismissed initial media reporting of the allegations as a “hoax” and later said that intelligence officials had not briefed him on the alleged bounties because they did not believe it to be credible information.
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