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Trump: I didn't ask Putin about reports of US troop bounties



Intelligence: Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Leah Millis

Intelligence: Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Leah Millis

Intelligence: Donald Trump speaks to reporters at the White House yesterday. Photo: REUTERS/Leah Millis

US president Donald Trump said in an interview broadcast yesterday that he has not spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin about US intelligence reports of Russian bounties given to Taliban-linked militants to kill American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

"I have never discussed it with him, no," Mr Trump said during a taping of 'Axios on HBO'. He said he did not bring up the issue during his most recent conversation with Mr Putin last week, which Mr Trump said was "a phone call to discuss other things".

The Trump administration in recent weeks has questioned the veracity of the intelligence. But some of Mr Trump's own senior intelligence officials viewed the information as credible enough to warn the Pentagon and allies so they could ensure they had measures in place to protect their forces in Afghanistan and to begin developing options for responding to such a Russian operation, national security adviser Robert C O'Brien said earlier this month.

During the interview, Mr Trump continued to cast doubt on the intelligence, saying: "Frankly, that's an issue that many people said was fake news."

Pressed by Axios's Jonathan Swan on whether he believes the intelligence, Mr Trump did not answer directly.

"You know, it's interesting," Mr Trump said. "Nobody brings up China. They always bring Russia, Russia, Russia."

When reports of the possible bounties emerged last month, Democrats seized on Mr Trump's reluctance to take action as another sign of an unwillingness to challenge Mr Putin - a charge that gained currency in the wake of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

During the interview, Mr Trump stressed that he was not verbally briefed on the intelligence about possible Russian bounties.

"It never reached my desk," Mr Trump said. "You know why?… Intelligence didn't think it was real… If it reached my desk, I would have done something about it."

Mr Trump did not respond directly to a question about news reports that the intelligence was included in a written briefing.

The interview comes as President Trump will today announce plans to withdraw about 12,000 troops from Germany - but will keep nearly half of them in Europe to address tension with Russia, US officials said.

However, they stressed only a relatively small number of advanced units would move any time soon.

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The rest of the troop movements would take years to fully implement.

"It will still be months to plan and years to execute because it is very complex," one source said, noting potentially billions of dollars in required funding and more planning by the branches of the armed forces.

Mr Trump announced his intention to cut the number of US troops in Germany to 25,000, faulting the close US ally for failing to meet Nato's defence spending target and accusing it of taking advantage of America on trade.

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