"It certainly is going to reopen a wound," Erik Hendriks told Newsday this week of his son, Cpl. Robert Hendriks

By Adam Carlson
July 01, 2020 05:40 PM
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Robert Hendriks
| Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Austin Livingston

Sometimes in tears, the father of a 25-year-old Marine killed last April in Afghanistan spoke out this week following reports that Russia may have been offering bounties to Taliban-linked militants in exchange for U.S. troop deaths.

"The pain is indescribable. It certainly is going to reopen a wound," Erik Hendriks told Newsday on Tuesday of Cpl. Robert Hendriks. "It makes it sound like [Robert's death] was avoidable, but so many of these kids have been killed over there."

"It would be horrific," Erik told NBC News of the suspected Russia bounties being true.

Roberts' mother, Felicia Arculeo, told CNBC: "The parties who are responsible should be held accountable, if that’s even possible."

Erik echoed that, telling Newsday: "We absolutely need an investigation."

The intelligence about Russia's suspected bounties became public on Friday, in a New York Times article that was later confirmed and expanded on by the Associated Press, The Washington Post and other news outlets.

This assessment — which was quickly disputed by both Russia and the Taliban — drew outcry from lawmakers, in part because President Donald Trump had reportedly been briefed on the suspicions and his aides had been considering what response to make to Russia, if any. But no action had yet been taken.

"We need answers," Texas Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a Republican and former Navy SEAL, tweeted on Sunday.

Trump maintains he was never briefed on the matter and his administration argues there isn't consensus from experts on the underlying intelligence about what Russia did. The National Security Council said it's being "evaluated."

The controversy has been fueled by the president's well-documented fondness for Russia's autocratic president, Vladimir Putin, despite the countries' history of antagonism. (Trump has downplayed this at times and said his diplomatic style and direct dealing with Putin would ultimately be to the country's credit.)

"If this administration had any idea that these cowards were being paid by any kind of Russian infiltration and any blood was spilled with that knowledge," Erik Hendriks, Cpl. Hendriks' dad, told Newsday, "I have lost all respect for this administration."

U.S. forces in Afghanistan
| Credit: AP/Shutterstock

Some details remain unclear from what intelligence officials believe about Russia's bounties, including how much money was paid out and for how many deaths — and how involved upper levels of Russia's government were.

According to the Post, "several U.S. service members" are thought to have been killed as a result of the alleged Russian payments to what the AP described as "Taliban militants and linked associations."

The Taliban was removed from power in Afghanistan when the U.S. invaded in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, beginning a nearly two-decade conflict.

Twenty American troops were killed in 2019 in Afghanistan from hostile forces, according to available data.

That number shrank drastically this year following a February agreement intended to pave the way for the U.S.' exit from Afghanistan — a central Trump promise since his successful 2016 campaign rebuking the Middle Eastern conflicts of his predecessors.

The Times reported that "the Russian plot to pay bounties to Taliban fighters came into focus over the past several months."

The paper noted a key discovery of a large amount of money from a Taliban location that got "everybody’s attention," one official said. The AP reported that $500,000 was found in a Navy SEAL raid on the location earlier this year.

Among the American deaths being investigated was an April, 8, 2019 explosion that killed three Marines in Afghanistan's Parwan province, the AP reported.

Cpl. Hendriks — who was posthumously promoted from sergeant, according to Newsday — died in that April explosion along with Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman and Marine Sgt. Benjamin Hines.

Hines, 31, was from Pennsylvania; and Slutman was a 43-year-old former New York City firefighter from Delaware.

All three had been set to return home only days later, according to reports.

Credit: THOMAS WATKINS/AFP via Getty

Erik Hendriks said his son had decided to enlist while he was still a high school senior.

"It was his decision, and we didn’t stand in his way," he told Newsday of Robert, better known as "Robby," a paintball aficionado who also loved tattoos, boxing and martial arts.

Shawn Gregoire — the mother of Army paratrooper Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance who was killed last year in a so-called "green-on-blue" attack blamed on rogue Afghan forces — told CNBC she, too, wants an investigation.

“I really want someone to get to the bottom of this,” Gregoire said.

Both Cpl. Hendriks' mother and father said they had not heard from the military. Erik, who described himself as a Trump supporter, said he had also not heard from the president.

Citing White House sources, NBC reported Tuesday the administration does not believe Russia bounties were linked to the deadly explosion last April.

"Why hasn't anybody called me or my ex-wife to settle us? Isn't it enough the hell we're going through that no one has come forward with anything at all?" Erik told NBC. "It's really horrible."