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Mom of Marine killed in Afghanistan wants investigation of claim Russians paid Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers

The mother of a Marine killed last year in Afghanistan said Monday that she wants a thorough investigation of reports that her son and two other Marines may have been the targets of Taliban-linked fighters who collected a bounty on U.S. soldiers offered by a Russian military intelligence unit.

Felicia Arculeo, whose son Cpl. Robert Hendriks died in the April 8, 2019, attack, also told CNBC “that the parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible.”

Arculeo, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., said she has not been contacted by U.S. intelligence or military officials since Friday.

That was the day that The New York Times broke the news that American intelligence agencies had assessed that a Russian intelligence unit last year offered bounties to Islamist fighters in Afghanistan who killed U.S. soldiers.

The Times also reported that President Donald Trump had been briefed on that belief in March, but as of yet had not decided on if or how to retaliate against Russia after being presented with a menu of options.

Other news outlets, including NBC News, have confirmed that there is intelligence backing up the claim that a Russian unit offered bounties on U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan.

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

“I got pretty upset.”

Her 25-year-old, Hendriks, and the other two marines, Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, and 43-year-old Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, were killed by a car bomb near the Bagram Air Field. The three Marines, who had been assigned to the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, died just days before they were scheduled to return home from Afghanistan.

On Sunday, The Associated Press reported that officials said the intelligence community was investigating whether the attack was linked to the suspected Russian bounty offer.

An official familiar with the intelligence told NBC News that the United States has gathered information showing that Russian operatives paid bounties for killing American soldiers to the Taliban, and that members of the U.S. military, along with Afghan civilians, died as a result of attacks launched to collect those cash rewards.

Arculeo said that the possible link of the attack that killed her son to Russian bounties should continue to be probed despite the White House’s claim that the intelligence about the bounties is not verified.

“Absolutely, that should be investigated,” she said.

Asked what should be done if it is determined that Russia paid a bounty for the killing of her son, Arculeo said, “Look, that’s a tough question.”

“At the end of the day, my son is still gone. He’s still not coming home,” she said.

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany on Monday told reporters, “There was not a consensus among the intelligence community” about whether the bounty payments were offered.

“And, in fact, there were dissenting opinions within the intelligence community, and it would not be elevated to the president until it was verified,” McEnany said.

Trump in a tweet Sunday wrote, “Intel just reported to me that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or” to Vice President Mike Pence.

Democratic leaders in Congress demanded that the Trump administration brief both the House and the Senate on the intelligence related to the 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, D-Calif., said in a letter to Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe and CIA chief Gina Haspel.

“Congress and the country need answers now,” Pelosi said in the letter.

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