Mothers of military sons killed in Afghanistan want probe of Russian death bounties

Key Points
  • The mother of a Marine killed last year in Afghanistan wants an 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."
  • Also upset by the news reports was Shawn Gregoire, a Chicago woman whose son, Army Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance, was fatally shot July 29, 2019, with another soldier, Pfc. Brandon Jay Kreischer, in Afghanistan by an Afghan soldier who was being trained by U.S. military.
These images provided by the U.S. Marine Corps show, from left, Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del., and Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y. All three were killed on Monday, April 8, 2019, when a roadside bomb hit their convoy near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
Marine Corps | AP

The mothers of two members of the U.S. military killed in Afghanistan last year say they want a thorough investigation of reports that a Russian military intelligence unit offered bounties to Taliban-linked fighters for the deaths of American soldiers.

One of service members was among three Marines who died in an attack that reports have said may have been related to a bounty that was actually paid.

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.

Another mom, Shawn Gregoire, whose Army paratrooper son Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance was killed last July in a so-called insider attack by an Afghan soldier in Tarin Kowt, in southern Afghanistan, said she and other parents of killed soldiers should have been notified of the intelligence about the bounties.

No reports have identified her son's death as a possible case of a Russian-bounty-motivated killing.

But Gregoire said the fact that the attack was committed by an insider, who was captured after the shooting, makes her suspicious that a bounty may have played a role.

"I really want someone to get to the bottom of this," Gregoire told CNBC.

The Times has also reported that President Donald Trump had been briefed on the intelligence months ago, but as of yet had not decided on whether or how to retaliate against Russia after being presented with a menu of options. The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported that Trump was briefed on the alleged bounties in March 2019, the month before Hendriks and the two other Marines were killed.

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 son, 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 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.

Gregoire, whose son was known by his middle name, Isaiah, was fatally shot July 29, 2019, with another soldier, Pfc. Brandon Jay Kreischer, by an Afghan soldier who was being trained by U.S. military.

Nance, who was 24 years old, was on the verge of re-enlisting in the Army, where he served with the 82nd Airborne, for another three-year-stint, and planned to make the military his career, his mom said.

Spc Michael Isaiah Nance
Courtesy from Nance's family

"I had so many different reactions," Gregoire told CNBC on Tuesday morning, about reading the news about the possible bounties on Saturday.

"Extremely emotional, to anger and sadness. It just brought me back to July 2019 all over again."

"Just angry that I had to find out there's a possible link ... through the media," Gregoire said.

She said she is "wondering if there's some truth to this and if these attacks could have been prevented."

The Times has reported that Trump was briefed last February about intelligence regarding the alleged bounties. The Associated Press on Monday night, citing officials with direct knowledge of the matter, also reported that the White House was aware of the matter much earlier, in early 2019. Then-national security advisor John Bolton told colleagues that he briefed Trump on the matter in March 2019, the AP added.

"I saw that" AP report, Gregoire said.

"And I really want someone to get to the bottom of this," she added. "Even if he was not briefed, what's happening now?"

"What are you doing now, now that you know?" Gregoire asked, referring to Trump.

"This is still an issue," she said. "We still have women and men over there sacrificing their lives, and if Russia is a problem ..." she said.

Gregoire said that nearly a year after her son's killed she has yet to receive the after action report about his death.

"What was pretty devastating to me was this were the questions  have: who is this person, why did he do it?" Gregoire said. "To not have this report and to wake up and [see the news about the bounties], I feel somebody should have warned me."

Gregoire said she has contacted the office of Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who herself is a military veteran, to get answers.

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.