Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that he warned Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov against placing bounties on the heads of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, assuring him there would be “an enormous price to pay.”
“If the Russians are offering money to kill Americans, or for that matter other Westerns as well, there will be an enormous price to pay. That’s what I shared with foreign minister Lavrov,” Pompeo said during an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
“I know our military has talked to their senior leaders as well. We won’t brook that, we won’t tolerate,” Pompeo continued.
Reports broke in June that U.S. intelligence found that at least one American soldier, as well as a number of Afghan civilians, died as a result of alleged secret bounty payments that Russia offered Taliban militants to target U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
Intelligence about the alleged bounty offerings by Russia was reportedly included in the president’s daily written intelligence briefing in February, but the White House claims Trump was not verbally briefed on the matter until the New York Times’s June 26 report on the issue. The Times reported that some bounties as high as $100,000 were paid for each U.S. or allied troop killed.
The Washington Post said in a similar report that several American service-members died as a result of monetary rewards that a Russian military intelligence unit offered to terrorist militants to target U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan.
Pompeo’s warning to the Russian foreign minister reportedly came during a July 13 phone call that was officially held to discuss a separate topic, the possibility of meeting between the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.
The secretary of state expressed Washington’s intense opposition to the bounty program but did not speak about the specific intelligence indicating that Russia paid Taliban fighters and other Afghanistan militants to kill U.S. service members.
Last month, President Trump said he has never discussed the intelligence with Russian President Vladimir Putin despite several phone calls between the two heads of state since the intelligence was made known. Trump has said he was not briefed on the intelligence because there was not a consensus about its reliability within the intelligence community.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has been entrenched in negotiations with the Taliban and the Afghan government over a peace agreement that involves the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region.