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EDITORIAL

Russian bounties on US soldiers cry out for action

With silence from the White House, it falls to Congress to probe acts of international criminality.

An American flag was held open on Main Street in Agawam on Sept. 3, 2019, for the funeral procession of  Master Sergeant Luis Deleon-Figueroa of Chicopee, a Green Beret who was killed in Faryab province. The funeral procession led to the Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemetery.
An American flag was held open on Main Street in Agawam on Sept. 3, 2019, for the funeral procession of Master Sergeant Luis Deleon-Figueroa of Chicopee, a Green Beret who was killed in Faryab province. The funeral procession led to the Massachusetts Veterans' Memorial Cemetery.Lane Turner/Globe Staff

As President Trump engages in the usual denials and deflections, the body of evidence grows that a Russian military spy unit placed a bounty on the heads of US soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

The families of those soldiers killed in the past year — one of them from Chicopee — are entitled to answers.

It will take a congressional investigation to sort through why, in the three months since the intelligence community gathered to discuss the evidence of Russian treachery, the Trump administration has done exactly nothing in response. During that time, the administration has ferried a humanitarian aid package, including ventilators, to Russia, and Trump has continued to lobby his fellow G-7 members to allow President Vladimir Putin of Russia to rejoin the group. In fact, Trump had already invited Putin to the now-canceled summit meeting that had been scheduled for the end of this month.

US intelligence officials have confirmed to The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press that the notorious GRU, an arm of Russia’s military intelligence agency, had secretly offered bounties to militants with ties to the Taliban for killing Americans and other coalition forces still on the ground in Afghanistan. British troops were another prime target of the program which is believed to have operated throughout 2019.

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That year, 16 American soldiers were killed by either gunfire or improvised bombs in Afghanistan. One of those killed by small arms fire was 31-year-old Green Beret Luis DeLeon-Figueroa, a Chicopee resident who died along with fellow Green Beret Master Sergeant Jose J. Gonzalez last August in Faryab Province. So, yes, this isn’t just about geopolitics or intelligence; it’s about whether the two daughters of DeLeon-Figueroa will grow up without a father because Russia put a price on his head.

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And if the GRU sounds familiar, it’s because it is the Russian agency at the heart of attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, hack into the Democratic Party servers, use a nerve gas to poison a former agent who had defected to Britain, in 2018, and generally work to destabilize Western governments or West-leaning governments.

As early as 2017 the US commander in Afghanistan reported that Russia was arming Taliban fighters. Intelligence officials theorize that the bounties on American soldiers might have been in retaliation for an American military attack on pro-Syrian forces in 2018 that killed Russian mercenaries fighting alongside those forces.

Then, early this year, a Seal Team Six raid on a Taliban outpost found some $500,000 in cash — a rather tidy nest egg probably tied to the G.R.U.‘s blood money.

Trump’s first response, via Twitter, was to deny he had ever been briefed on the bounties. He later followed that line of defense by insisting intelligence officials did not find the information “credible.” Then, of course, he went on to call it more “fake news.”

The Associated Press is reporting that the president was given briefings in 2019 and in February on the subject and that top White House officials were aware of the bounties in early 2019.

Even some fellow Republicans, like Representative Liz Cheney and Senator Lindsey Graham, weren’t buying the president’s line.

“Imperative Congress get to the bottom of recent media reports that Russian GRU units in Afghanistan have offered to pay the Taliban to kill American soldiers with the goal of pushing America out of the region,” Graham tweeted.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated during a Sunday interview on ABC’s “This Week” that she was looking for the administration to brief Congress on the matter. A small group of House Democrats was scheduled to be briefed Tuesday, but not the entire body and not in public.

After three months of radio silence from the White House, and days of obfuscation from Trump himself, there is little reason to believe straight answers will be forthcoming for the American people — and the families of those soldiers killed during the last year or so in Afghanistan.

It will, therefore, be left to Congress to determine the extent to which a foreign power — with whom this nation is not at war — has targeted US troops, and how that level of international criminality should be punished. To continue to ignore such lawlessness is to invite more of it.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.