“The evil men do lives after them,” Mark Antony reminds his fellow Romans in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. And so it would seem as Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) and the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) probes the Biden administration’s disastrous and shameful August 2021 retreat from Afghanistan. Witness testimony revealed the suicide bombing that killed 13 American military members might have been avoided.
The HFAC heard testimony from Francis Q. Hoang, executive chairman of Allied Airlift 21; Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Scott Mann, founder of Task Force Pineapple; Aidan Gunderson, a former Army combat medic deployed to Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) assisting with the evacuation; Camille Mackler, Esq., executive director of Immigrant Advocates Response Collaborative; Tyler Vargas-Andrews, Sergeant, US Marine Corps (who spoke on his own behalf); and Peter Lucier of Team America Relief. The theme of the committee hearing was reinforced by Francis Hoang, who set the stage for recounting similar experiences of the other witnesses. In his opening statement, Hoang explained:
“(I)n August 2021 during our nation’s rushed and chaotic withdrawal, thousands of Americans including me began receiving frantic pleas for help from Afghan allies whose lives were at risk because they worked with us. Unwilling to turn our back on these allies, we did what we could to save their lives. Working from our homes and using every digital tool at our disposal, thousands of us helped guide Afghans on the ground through crowds, with frightened, tired, and hungry kids in tow, desperately trying to find a way out. 9 times out of 10, these efforts failed.”
What the committee heard from the witnesses were gut-wrenching first-hand accounts of the human tragedy of a non-combatant evacuation operation gone horribly wrong. Particularly riveting was the testimony of Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews, US Marine Corps, Sniper Team Reaper 2, attached to Echo Company, 2nd Battalion 1st Marines. He recounted his harrowing experience at HKIA on August 26, 2021. Sergeant Vargas-Andrews had been positioned and living perched in a tower for nearly ten days by the Abby Gate, HKIA, watching Taliban thugs preventing Afghan refugees from making their way to the safety of the airport.
According to Vargas-Andrews, these people struggling for freedom were beaten, and many were executed. The sergeant’s choked-out words were an emotional, tear-filled remembrance of his persistent attempts to convey to his superiors that he and his sniper team had identified and confirmed the description of a suicide bomber in the crowd in front of Abby Gate but could not get the authority to engage the terrorist. Finally, begging for permission from his battalion commander to remove the suicide bomber threat, he was told by his battalion CO he did not have the authority and that he didn’t know who did. Eventually, Vargas-Andrews came down from the tower to help a fellow Marine.
“Then a flash and massive wave of pressure. I’m thrown 12 feet on the ground but instantly knew what had happened. I open my eyes to Marines dead or unconscious around me. A crowd of hundreds immediately vanished in front of me and my body was catastrophically wounded with 100-150 ball bearings now in it,” Sergeant Vargas-Andrews told the committee. “Every inch of my exposed body except for my face took ball bearings and shrapnel.” Vargas-Andrews lost his right arm. Thirteen American service members and 169 Afghans died, and the carnage could have been prevented. Vargas-Andrews’ on-scene description was the first time anyone had explained the massacre of August 26 should not have happened. Worse yet, in nearly two years, no one wanted to hear Vargas-Andrews’ story of that day’s events – not one person in the leadership hierarchy.
“One hundred eighty-two people were killed, including 13 US service members. One of those service members (was) my constituent, Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss,” Congressman Tim Burchett (R-TN) told the committee. “I’d like to make an official inquiry into how his (Sergeant Vargas-Andrews) requests were denied. From the State Department to the US Military, I’m sure I’m stepping on some toes, which is purely intentional,” Burchett continued. Chairman McCaul promised the committee would take up Burchett’s request.
The committee learned Afghans who assisted the US and Allied armed forces that were left behind are being systematically hunted down and imprisoned or killed. The testimony from the witnesses revealed the State Department was slow to act and created much of the chaos with a 9-5 workday mentality. The committee heard story after story from other witnesses of failed, inept Biden administration leadership in Kabul and throughout Afghanistan. There was no doubt in hearing the poignant accounts of the withdrawal that the Biden administration was the culprit for the failed planning and execution. “The Fall of Kabul and the noncombatant evacuation operation that followed was a disaster,” Peter Lucier concluded in his written statement.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.
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