WASHINGTON, Aug 20 (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Thursday vowed to retaliate if other countries were found to have offered bounties for attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, but he gave no indication whether his stance toward U.S. intelligence reports outlining the bounties had changed.
Reports about U.S. intelligence findings that Moscow paid the Taliban to kill American troops in Afghanistan emerged in late June. Russia denied the reports, and Trump has made clear that he did not believe them.
CNN this month reported that U.S. intelligence had also indicated that Iran paid the Taliban bounties to target U.S. troops in Afghanistan as well. Reuters could not verify that story or vouch for its accuracy. Tehran on Tuesday said the report was false.
Trump, speaking at a White House event alongside the Iraqi prime minister, told reporters that if the reports were determined to be a fact, then “we would hit them so hard, your head would spin.”
Democrats and other critics have accused Trump, a Republican who is seeking re-election in November who has long pushed warmer U.S. ties with Russia, of not taking intelligence information concerning soldiers’ deaths seriously enough.
Iran’s foreign ministry Saeed Khatibzadeh on Tuesday said the reports that Tehran paid Taliban fighters to target U.S. forces and allies were “entirely false,” adding that the United States “tries to hide its miscalculations in Afghanistan by resorting to propaganda,” Iranian state TV reported.
U.S. officials have said the United States is looking into the matter, and have pointed to internal divisions over the intelligence. U.S. and European government sources familiar with intelligence reporting, meanwhile, have told Reuters fresh intelligence backed up the Russian bounty allegations.
Trump told Axios news outlet in late July that he did not raise the issue with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their July 23 call.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason in Washington and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; Writing by Susan Heavey and David Morgan Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)