Families of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan call for answers on alleged Russian bounty plot

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US intelligence officials claim the president was briefed about the plot and took no action

World | The Independent

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The families of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan have called for a full investigation into reports that their deaths may have been the result of a bounty programme funded by Russia.

The New York Times this week reported that US intelligence officials had concluded Russia was secretly offering money to Taliban-linked fighters to kill US and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

Officials speaking to the Associated Press said that Donald Trump and top White House officials were briefed about the plot more than a year ago, but he had yet to take any action.

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“Absolutely, that should be investigated,” Felicia Arculeo, whose son Cpl Robert Hendriks was killed in April 2019, told CNBC. “The parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible,”

Mr Hendriks’ death is one of several currently being investigated as part of the probe into the alleged Russian scheme. He was killed by a car bomb in an attack near Bagram airfield along with two other US marines, Marine Staff Sgt Christopher Slutman, 43, and 31-year-old Sgt Benjamin Hines.

The alleged Russian programme to pay Taliban-linked fighters to kill US soldiers came to light in recent days after intelligence officials leaked the details to the New York Times.

“I just happened to randomly see” the news about the report, said Ms Arculeo. “I got pretty upset.”

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Mr Hendriks' father, Erik Hendricks, told the Associated Press that the claims should have been immediately addressed.

"If this was kind of swept under the carpet as to not make it a bigger issue with Russia, and one ounce of blood was spilled when they knew this, I lost all respect for this administration and everything," he said.

Mr Trump has come under fire from Democrats in recent days for failing to act on what could potentially be a dramatic escalation in Russian efforts to destabilise US operations in Afghanistan.

According to the reports, US intelligence discovered the plot after gleaning information from captured Afghan militants and criminals. US officials also discovered financial transfers between a bank account linked to Russia’s military intelligence and a Taliban-linked account.

The Trump administration was presented with a list of possible responses to the alleged Russian efforts, the officials told the New York Times, from diplomatic overtures to increasing sanctions. As of today, none have been taken.

Mr Trump has denied ever having been briefed on the matter. But US officials contradicted that claim; several said the information was included in his daily briefing as recently as February.

Both the Kremlin and the Taliban have denied that such a bounty programme exists.

Joe Biden, former vice president and the presumptive Democratic nominee, called Mr Trump "unfit to be president" over the claims.

"The idea that he didn't know, or wasn't being briefed, that's a dereliction of duty," he said on Tuesday. "And if he was briefed, and didn't do anything, that's a dereliction of duty."

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer tweeted on Tuesday: “It’s been 5 days since media reports informed the world of Putin’s alleged bounty program. What has Pres. Trump done? He hasn’t condemned it. He hasn’t told service members and their families he will investigate it. He hasn’t directed action against Putin. He's done nothing.”

Shawn Gregoire, whose son Michael Isaiah Nance was killed in an “insider” attack in July last year in Afghanistan, is also calling for an investigation into the circumstances of his death.

“I really want someone to get to the bottom of this,” she told CNBC.

“Even if he was not briefed, what’s happening now? What are you doing now, now that you know?” she said, referring to Mr Trump.

  • Families of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan call for answers on alleged Russian bounty plot  photo


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