The Illinois Democrat, who is a combat veteran and considers himself a top candidate to become former vice president Joe Biden’s running mate in the 2020 election, called a recent closed Pentagon briefing for the Senate Armed Services Committee On the subject of Russian rewards, inadequate and alleged defense officials “were not prepared to answer questions related to the disturbing public reports.”
“It is unacceptable that, to date, the Trump administration appears to ignore a matter of great importance to Gold Star Family members whose loved ones were killed while serving in Afghanistan: was there any US troop casualties in Afghanistan related to the alleged GRU reward payments to Taliban-linked militants. Gold Star families deserve an answer to this question, “he wrote to Esper.
Russian intelligence officers for the GRU, a military intelligence unit, offered money to Taliban militants in Afghanistan as a reward for murdering American or British troops there, a European intelligence official told CNN last month.
On Thursday, Duckworth asked Esper to explain whether the Pentagon is conducting an investigation into “US troop casualties in Afghanistan to assess whether any deaths by US service members are related to the alleged Russian rewards program.”
He also asked if the Defense Department is tracking any concurrent or full intelligence community investigations into victims of US troops in Afghanistan and pressured Esper to commit to “disclose the findings of all investigations on this issue with members of the Gold Star Family, Congress, and the American People. “
The letter comes the same day that Esper and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley are testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill.
It also comes amid an ongoing debate over intelligence reports related to Russian rewards that have been reported by CNN and other media outlets. President Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that he was not informed about intelligence of this nature, but the US military and intelligence officials have not denied its existence.
The main US general oversight operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan said Tuesday that the information about Russian operations offering rewards to Taliban-linked militants was “very troubling”, but that the information was not robust enough. to stay in a court of law.
General Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.S. Central Command, also told a small group of journalists while traveling to the region that he was not convinced that Russia’s rewards program was directly responsible for the death of personnel from The USA.
“Intelligence was not shown to me. It was shown enough to worry me. It was not shown enough to take her to a court of law. That is often true of intelligence on the battlefield,” McKenzie said, according to a transcript. provided by the Department of Defense.
His comments marked the first time that a Pentagon official answered questions about US intelligence evaluating that a Russian military intelligence unit had made an effort to pay the Taliban to kill US soldiers.