Sunday, April 11, 2021

Three Marines, Now Focus of Russian Bounties Investigation, Show the Costs of an Endless War

Three Marines, Now Focus of Russian Bounties Investigation, Show the Costs of an Endless War

He loved to rewatch “Star Wars” DVDs, his friends said, and considered the series the ideal representation of good versus evil. He also was notoriously late, operating on what his family and friends jokingly referred to as “Ben Time.” He was close friends with the third Marine, Sergeant Slutman, despite their 12-year age difference. He joined other Marines who joking called Sergeant Slutman “Old Man,” friends said.

Sergeant Slutman, who had been a Marine for 14 years by the time he was deployed at Bagram, arrived at the airfield already well-tested and respected after years of fighting fires across the boroughs of New York City. He had received medals for bravery in 2014 after rescuing an unconscious woman from a burning building in the South Bronx. He was constantly challenging other Marines who called him old to try to keep up with him, his friends said. But above all, they said, he adored his three daughters.

That October, a car bomb exploded near a Czech convoy outside of Bagram, wounding five Czech troops. But Thanksgiving and Christmas came and went uneventfully for the Marines. In February the new acting defense secretary, Patrick M. Shanahan, showed up in an all-black outfit, prompting the American press to dub him “Dr. Evil.”

A month later, Sergeant Hendriks celebrated his 25th birthday.

The three Marines and the rest of their unit were going out almost daily. Sleep, eat, patrol. The routine has been repeated many thousands of times by 775,000 American troops in Afghanistan for more than 18 years. Sometimes the Marines were on foot and sometimes in convoys as they patrolled the Bagram perimeter.

The Marines knew that every time they left the airfield, their chances of getting hit by an improvised roadside explosive or a car bomb went up exponentially. The road between Kabul and Bagram was especially dangerous, which is why visiting American dignitaries took helicopters between the two locations.

On April 8 — less than two weeks before the Marines were due to return to the U.S. — the three set out on another patrol. Sergeants Slutman, Hendriks and Hines were in the same vehicle.

Just before 4 p.m., as the convoy was approaching an intersection near Bagram, a vehicle slammed into the three Marines’ personnel carrier and detonated. The Taliban quickly claimed responsibility.

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