Several loved ones of military members slain last year in Afghanistan have called for an investigation, after reports surfaced that Taliban-linked fighters were motivated by a Russian military intelligence unit’s bounty on U.S. soldiers, while others slammed President Trump for possibly knowing about the matter for months and not doing anything.
Marines Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman were killed by a roadside bomb near the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in April 2019. The three Marines died just days before they were to return home.
Several American officials believe their deaths may have been the result of a Russian covert operation to incentivize such killings, multiple officials familiar with the matter told The New York Times. “A Russian military intelligence unit offered and paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill U.S. and coalition troops in Afghanistan, two officials familiar with the matter said,” the Times wrote.
“The parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible,” Felicia Arculeo, Hendriks’ mother, told CNBC.
Arculeo said no one in the U.S. intelligence or military communities have reached out since news broke Russia may have offered bounties to Islamic fighters who were successful in killing U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.
“I really want someone to get to the bottom of this,” Shawn Gregoire told CNBC. Her son, Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance, 24, was killed last July when an Afghan soldier being trained by the U.S. military opened fire on him and another soldier in Tarin Kowt on July 29, 2019. The shooter was later captured.
Though Nance’s death has not been identified as being possibly motivated by a Russian bounty, Gregoire said the fact that it was committed by an insider has left her wondering if there was a reward at play.
Gregoire learned of the possibility that bounties were put on the heads of U.S. soldiers through media reports this week, the discovery of which she said brought her back to the moment she learned her son was killed.
“I had so many different reactions,” Gregoire told CNBC. “Extremely emotional, to anger and sadness. ... Just angry that I had to find out there’s a possible link ... through the media. Wondering if there’s some truth to this and if these attacks could have been prevented.”
The New York Times also broke the story that President Trump had been briefed on the intelligence months ago, but that he had not decided on whether or if to retaliate against Russia. The Associated Press reported that Trump had been briefed on the bounties in March 2019, the month before Hendriks, Hines and Slutman were killed. Then-national security advisor John Bolton reportedly told colleagues he briefed Trump on the issue in March 2019, the AP wrote.
Trump has denied he was briefed on any intelligence report saying Russia was paying militants linked to the Taliban to kill American soldiers, but for Erik Hendriks, that’s hard to believe.
“I am a Republican and I am a Trump supporter,” Erik Hendriks, Cpl. Hendrik’s father, told The New York Times. “But there would be no way he didn’t know about it if Russians were paying off these cowards like mafia pay off hit men. I would expect the government to have 1,000 percent support behind these warriors.”
Gregoire echoed Erik Hendriks’ sentiments.
“What are you doing now, now that you know?” Gregoire asked, referring to Trump. “This is still an issue. “We still have women and men over there sacrificing their lives, and if Russia is a problem ...”
The Associated Press reported Sunday that officials said the intelligence community was investigating whether the attack on Hendriks, Hines and Slutman was linked to the suspected Russian bounty offer.
Democratic leaders in Congress have called on the Trump administration to brief the House and the Senate on the intelligence concerning bounties.
“The questions that arise are: was the President briefed, and if not, why not, and why was Congress not briefed,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA chief Gina Haspel, CNBC reported.
“Congress and the country need answers now.”