2 Harrisburg-based Marine Reservists’ deaths may be linked to Russian bounties

“If this was kind of swept under the carpet as to not make it a bigger issue with Russia...I lost all respect for this administration and everything.”

  • Steve Marroni/PennLive

(Harrisburg) — The deaths of three Marine Reservists, two of whom were part of a unit based in Harrisburg, are now being investigated by the U.S. to determine if they died because of Russian bounties.

This comes as news broke that top officials in the White House were aware in early 2019 of classified intelligence indicating Russia was secretly offering bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans, a full year earlier than has been previously reported, according to U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the intelligence, The Associated Press is reporting.

The Defense Department identified the three servicemen as Marine Staff Sgt. Christopher Slutman, 43, of Newark, Delaware; Sgt. Benjamin Hines, 31, of York; and Cpl. Robert Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, New York.

Hines and Slutman were part of the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, based in Harrisburg, where they spent one weekend per month for training.

Courtesy of the U.S. Marine Corps / The Associated Press

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.

Hines was a 2006 graduate of Dallastown Area High School, and Slutman’s parents live in Yorkana.

The Marines died in an April 2019 attack on an American convoy after encountering a car rigged with explosives detonated near their armored vehicles as they returned to Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

Hendriks’ father told the AP that even a rumor of Russian bounties 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,” Erik Hendriks said.

After Hines’ death last year, Dallastown Area School District Superintendent Ron Dyer said Hines was a leader in the school’s Marine Corps Junior ROTC and an important part of the legacy there. His teachers and coaches remember him well.

“The consistent thing they say is he was a great young man taken away way too soon,” Dyer said.

Along with being a U.S. Marine, Slutman, 43, was also a New York City Fire Department firefighter, both of which were childhood dreams.

“He was so happy,” his father, Fletcher Slutman Jr., of Yorkana, told PennLive last year. “He did it. He did it.”

While born in York County, Slutman grew up in Maryland and lived in Delaware with his wife and three daughters.

He was a great son, a great father, and everything he did, he did well, his father recalled.

The Associated Press reports:

Rahmat Gul / The Associated Press

Afghan security forces gather at the site of Monday’s attack near the Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. Three American service members and a U.S. contractor were killed when their convoy hit a roadside bomb on Monday near the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, the U.S. forces said. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

The assessment of the Russian bounties was included in at least one of President Donald Trump’s written daily intelligence briefings at the time, according to the officials. Then-national security adviser John Bolton also told colleagues he briefed Trump on the intelligence assessment in March 2019.

The White House didn’t respond to questions about Trump or other officials’ awareness of Russia’s provocations in 2019. The White House has said Trump wasn’t — and still hasn’t been — briefed on the intelligence assessments because they haven’t been fully verified. However, it’s rare for intelligence to be confirmed without a shadow of a doubt before it is presented to top officials.

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