Russian bounty operation reportedly connected to suicide bombing that killed 3 US Marines
- A US intelligence investigation into allegations that a secret Russian military intelligence unit paid out bounties to militants in Afghanistan partly concentrated on a fatal bombing that killed three US Marines, The New York Times reported.
- Some officials reportedly maintained that the intelligence was not concrete.
- Two of the Marines were scheduled to come back to the US in less than two weeks from the bombing.
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A US intelligence investigation into allegations that a secret Russian military intelligence unit paid out bounties to militants in Afghanistan partly concentrated on a suicide vehicle bombing that killed three US Marines, according to officials cited in a New York Times report published Monday.
Some officials reportedly maintained that the intelligence was not concrete - The Times reported that officials were in disagreement about the veracity of the evidence from the bombing and its connection to the Russians.
In April 2019, three US Marines were killed when a roadside bomb struck a military convoy near Bagram Airfield, a major base in Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman of Delaware, Cpl. Robert Hendriks of New York, and Sgt. Benjamin Hines of Pennsylvania were assigned to the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division when they were killed in the bombing.
Two of the Marines deployed in October 2018 and were scheduled to come back to the US in less than two weeks, according to a previous Stars & Stripes report.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.
The latest report comes days after The Times first reported that US intelligence officials assessed that Russia's military intelligence agency paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants to kill NATO troops in Afghanistan. Since The Times's first report on Friday, several other news organisations have confirmed the intelligence assessment.
US officials discovered information about the bounties through interrogations of militants and criminals earlier this year. Some of the bounty money was collected by either Islamist militants or those associated with them, The Times reported.
The intelligence officials reportedly believed the bounties involve Unit 29155, a branch of Russia's GRU military intelligence agency. Unit 29155, which is believed to be made up of former Russian special-forces troops, has been blamed for a series of assassination attempts throughout Europe, including the poisoning of Russian defector Sergei Skripal in 2018.
The White House and American President Donald Trump have offered shifting explanations and criticised the leaking of classified information. Trump claimed that he was recently told by an intelligence agency that "that they did not find this info credible, and therefore did not report it to me or [Vice President Mike Pence]."
"Possibly another fabricated Russia Hoax, maybe by the Fake News @nytimesbooks, wanting to make Republicans look bad," Trump tweeted on Sunday evening, adding that no other US president had scrutinised Russia's foreign policy more than he had.
But several news organisations, including The Times, have reported that the intelligence assessment was included in Trump's daily intelligence report as early as February.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Monday did not deny the existence of the intelligence report but added that Trump "was not personally briefed on the matter."
National security adviser Robert O'Brien in a statement said that Trump was not briefed on the matter due to it being unverified or unsubstantiated by the intelligence community. The Defense Department also released a statement on Monday saying that it "continues to evaluate intelligence" but currently had "no corroborating evidence to validate the recent allegations."
A select group of Republican lawmakers was briefed on the intelligence report on Monday. In a joint statement, Reps. Michael McCaul of Texas and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois said "it is important to let this review take place before any retaliatory actions are taken" and urged patience as Congress and the intelligence agencies look into the matter.
"There are already those who are politicising this issue, however, we cannot let politics overshadow a truth that Republicans and Democrats alike can agree on: the Putin regime cannot be trusted," the two Republicans added. "If the intelligence review process verifies the reports, we strongly encourage the Administration to take swift and serious action to hold the Putin regime accountable."
Several House Democrats are scheduled to receive a similar intelligence briefing at the White House on Tuesday.
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