The Kremlin has rejected as “lies” media reports that Russian forces offered to pay Taliban-linked militants to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan.
US President Donald Trump said on Sunday he was never briefed about the reported Russian military intelligence efforts and blasted a New York Times report about them.
Asked about the reports on Monday (local time), Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said media outlets should heed Mr Trump’s comments and also that Mr Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had never discussed the allegations.
It follows Mr Trump’s earlier denial that he knew about an intelligence report that concluded Russia had conspired with the Taliban and paid bounties to kill American troops serving in Afghanistan.
Mr Trump described as “fake news” The New York Times report that said he was briefed about the intelligence finding and the White House’s National Security Council discussed it at a meeting in late March.
“Nobody briefed or told me, @VP Pence, or Chief of Staff @MarkMeadows about the so-called attacks on our troops in Afghanistan by Russians,” Mr Trump tweeted, calling on the newspaper to name its anonymous source.
“Everybody is denying it & there have not been many attacks on us.”
In a separate tweet late on Sunday, Mr Trump added: “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or @VP.”
The NY Times reported on Friday that US intelligence had concluded that a Russian military intelligence unit linked to assassination attempts in Europe had offered rewards for successful attacks in 2019 on American and coalition soldiers, and that Islamist militants were believed to have collected some bounty money.
The White House and Director of National Intelligence have also denied the report.
On Sunday, the newspaper published an additional report saying US intelligence and Special Operations forces in Afghanistan alerted superiors as early as January to the suspected Russian plot to pay bounties, citing officials briefed on the matter.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, part of the so-called Gang of Eight US politicians who receive frequent intelligence briefings, said she was not aware of the assessment and called for Congress to be briefed.
“There is something very wrong here. But this must have an answer,” she said on ABC News, adding that Mr Trump has already supported Mr Putin by diminishing US leadership in NATO, reducing US forces in Germany and inviting Russia back into the G8.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer urged tough sanctions against Russia in the defence bill that the Senate will debate this week.
“There’s obviously more to this story, but it is pretty remarkable the President’s going out of his way to say he hasn’t heard anything about it,” Mr Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton told NBC News.