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Allegations that Russia worked with the Taliban to place bounties on U.S. troops stationed in the Middle East are not corroborated by any available intelligence, according to a top general in Afghanistan.

“It just has not been proved to a level of certainty that satisfies me,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, commander of the U.

S. Central Command, told NBC News.

“We continue to look for that evidence. I just haven’t seen it yet. But…it’s not a closed issue,” he said.

McKenzie repeated similar claims made by Gen. Mark Milley in July that data supporting the allegations was inconclusive and not enough to act on.

“I found what they presented to me very concerning, very worrisome. I just couldn’t see the final connection, so I sent my guys back and said, look, keep digging. So we have continued to dig and look because this involves potential threats to U.S. forces, it’s open,” he said. “I just haven’t seen anything that closes that gap yet.”

New York Times (NYT) reported in June that Russia allegedly offered the Taliban money to kill U.S. troops, citing unnamed sources. The report claims Trump was made aware of Russian bounties as early as 2019. The NYT describes a broad range of unidentified underlying data to support the claims, including electronic wire transfers and personal comments from members of the Taliban confirming Russia offered money for killing American troops.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid denied any connection while speaking to the NYT.

“These kinds of deals with the Russian intelligence  agency are baseless-our target killings and assassinations were ongoing in years before, and we did it on our own resources. That changed after our deal with the Americans, and their lives are secure and we don’t attack them.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper denied getting briefed on the situation, according to NPR.

“To the best of my recollection, I have not received a briefing that included the word ‘bounty,'” Esper said.

“If it was a credible report, a credible, corroborated report, that used those words, certainly it would have been brought to my attention by chain of command, by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and others, for action. We would have taken upon that action an interagency effort to make sure we addressed it,” Esper said, per NPR.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany denied allegations that Trump was briefed on the matter, as the Times claims. (RELATED: Trump Says He Didn’t Bring Up Alleged Taliban Bounties On US Soldiers In Call With Putin)

“The United States receives thousands of intelligence reports a day and they are subject to strict scrutiny,” McEnany said, according to CNBC. “While the White House does not routinely comment on alleged intelligence or internal deliberations, the CIA Director, National Security Advisor, and the Chief of Staff can all confirm that neither the president nor the Vice President were briefed on the alleged Russian bounty intelligence.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden said Trump betrayed troops after Trump claimed he wasn’t briefed on the situation and refused to blame Russia for the unsubstantiated allegations.

“His entire presidency has been a gift to Putin, but this is beyond pale,” Biden said during a virtual town hall. “It’s betrayal of the most sacred duty we bear as a nation to protect and equip our troops when we send them into harm’s way. It’s a betrayal of every single American family with a loved one serving in Afghanistan or anywhere overseas.”

Biden also tweeted that Trump “did nothing.”

If the reports are true, Donald Trump either read his briefings about the Russian bounties and did nothing — or he didn’t read them at all. Either way, it’s an unjustifiable dereliction of duty.

The American people deserve answers.

— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) July 1, 2020

New York Democratic Rep. Gregory W. Meeks called the allegations “credible,” according to the NYT.

“It is outrageous to me that we ask our servicemen and women to put their lives in danger for our peace and security, and yet the administration won’t believe a credible piece of intelligence putting bounties on their heads. How was Congress never briefed until the claim was leaked to the press at great risk to whistle-blowers?”

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Leaders spar at UN General Assembly amid global crisis

(CNN)World leaders gathered virtually Tuesday for this week's United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), with the UN's historic 75th anniversary overshadowed by strongmen leaders, fraying relations and a sense of intensifying international crisis.

The summit was forced online this year due to the pandemic and the 14-day quarantine regulations in New York City. Covid-19 loomed heavily over the first day of the event. Instead of meeting in person, UN officials, presidents and prime ministers sent pre-recorded speeches to mark the occasion.
    US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and a suite of strongmen including China's Xi Jinping, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro and Russia's Vladimir Putin all spoke early on Tuesday. UN Secretary General António Guterres called the health crisis "our own 1945 moment" -- a reference to World War II -- and described Covid-19 as "a toxic virus shaking the democratic underpinnings in many countries."Read MoreGuterres' remarks touched on rising global poverty and fractured diplomatic relations, and warned of the increasingly bitter standoff between the China and the United States, whose diplomatic relationship he said was moving "in a very dangerous direction.""Our world cannot afford a future where the two largest economies split the globe in a Great Fracture — each with its own trade and financial rules and internet and artificial intelligence capacities," he said.What to expect at the UN General Assembly in the time of Covid-19Guterres also suggested a New Global Deal to solve the crisis, built on a multilateral approach. But Tuesday's session often highlighted a lack of unity between UN members, with tensions particularly apparent between the US and China.Trump praised his own handling of the pandemic in the US, and touted his role in facilitating peace agreements between the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel, saying that more peace agreements would be coming shortly.He used part of his time to attack China, calling the coronavirus the "China virus" and urging the UN to hold Beijing accountable for the pandemic. He accused Beijing of "allowing flights to leave China and infect the world" and of "virtually controlling" the World Health Organization.WHO Communications director Gabby Stern responded on Twitter, writing, "@WHO has 194 Member States; no one gov't controls us."In a direct challenge to multilateralism, the US President also said global leaders should each put their own countries first. "For decades the same tired voices proposed the same failed solutions pursuing global ambitions at the expense of their own people, but only when you take care of your own citizens will you find a true basis for cooperation," Trump said. At the United Nations this week, US President Donald Trump will be denied something he loves -- a live audienceHe added, "As president, I have rejected the failed approaches of the past, and I am proudly putting America first, just as you should be putting your countries first. That's okay. That's what you should be doing."Speaking right after President Xi's pre-recorded message, China's UN Ambassador Zhang Jan rejected Trump's "baseless accusations." "No matter what others say, China will firmly support multilateralism," he said, speaking live before introducing the Chinese president's speech.Xi himself pointedly expressed his country's commitment to pursuing "open and inclusive development," to building an open world economy, and upholding the multilateral trading regime "with the WTO as the cornerstone." "We should say no to unilateralism and protectionism," Xi said.Also in contrast to Trump, Russia's Putin praised the UN, saying that over the decades it had "been ably fulfilling its mission of protecting peace, promoting sustainable development of the peoples and continents and providing assistance in mitigating local crises." "This enormous potential and expertise of the UN is relevant and serves as a solid basis for moving ahead," he said.Meanwhile, Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro used his message to accuse foreign agents of overhyping fires in the Amazon. Flames are currently raging in the Amazon for a second consecutive year, and deforestation has increased since Bolsonaro took office."We are victims of the most brutal misinformation campaign about the Amazon and the Brazilian wetlands," Bolsonaro said.Another clash, this time in Europe, took center stage when Turkey's Erdogan spoke. The Turkish leader called for a regional conference to address tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Greece, and accused Greece of causing problems in the region.Avoid 'vaccinationalism,' UN pleadsVaccines were also on several leaders' minds, after Guterres' opening address urged UN member states to avoid nationalism when it comes to curbing the pandemic.Several leaders touted their country's vaccine candidates as a potential solution.Putin said the Russian-developed Sputnik V vaccine was "reliable, safe and effective." Moscow drew criticism when it approved Sputnik V earlier this summer before conducting Phase 3 clinical trials. Ha added that he would be wiling to provide the vaccine to UN staffers. "Russia is ready to provide the UN with all the necessary qualified assistance; in particular, we are offering to provide our vaccine, free of charge, for the voluntary vaccination of the staff of the UN and its offices," he said.A Russian medical worker adminsters a shot of Russia's experimental Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow, on Sept. 15, 2020.China's Xi said Beijing's vaccines would be a "global public good" once developed and noted that there were several in Phase 3 clinical trials.He added that if a vaccine was developed, it would be "provided to other developing countries on a priority basis." United Nations refugee agency blasts US asylum limits
      Though national leaders stayed home, the UN's iconic Assembly Hall was not entirely empty this week -- one diplomat per country is allowed to introduce their leader's speech.On the sidelines, largely virtual meetings will also take place on topics including climate change, biodiversity, and Lebanon.

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