By Jennifer Hansler, CNN
US Marine Corps Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews can recall in specific detail the time a A suicide bomber attacked the gate of the Kabul airport Abbey in August 2021 amid the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“A flash and a huge pressure wave. I was thrown 4 feet to the ground, but instantly knew what had happened. I opened my eyes to see dead or unconscious Marines all around me. A crowd of hundreds immediately disappeared in front of me. And my body was catastrophically injured with 100 to 150 ball bearings now,” she recalled.
Vargas-Andrews, 25, gave emotional and detailed testimony from the days leading up to the bombing, which claimed the lives of 13 US service members and more than 100 Afghans, as part of a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. about the evacuation from Afghanistan.
the Biden administration frantic retreat After two decades of US involvement in the war, it has come under intense scrutiny from Republican lawmakers, including the new chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, who He promised to investigate the matter.
However, those accusations in Congress about who is responsible for the chaotic last few weeks of the US presence in Afghanistan have been largely along party lines, with Republican lawmakers pointing the finger at the Biden administration and Democratic lawmakers blaming the Trump administration for the deal that set the US withdrawal in motion.
Wednesday’s hearing featured testimony from two service members who were on the ground in Afghanistan in recent weeks: Vargas-Andrews and US Army Specialist Aidan Gunderson. In addition, three people involved with groups that worked to evacuate Afghans: Francis Hoang of Allied Airlift 21, retired Lt. Col. David Scott Mann of Task Force Pineapple and Peter Lucier of Team America Relief, and immigration attorney Camille Mackler, who worked for trying to get the administration to start relocating vulnerable Afghans long before the fall of Kabul, all served as witnesses.
Vargas-Andrews described the recall as a “catastrophe” and told lawmakers that “there was an inexcusable lack of responsibility and negligence.” He painted a picture of days of chaos and violence towards Afghans trying to flee the Taliban, described the US State Department as “unprepared to be at” Kabul airport, claimed top command ignored warnings of threats on the day of the attack. the attack.
Vargas-Andrews described the gruesome scenes he witnessed from his post at Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), telling lawmakers that “Afghans were brutalized and tortured by the Taliban.”
“Some Afghans who walked away from HKIA attempted suicide with the barbed wire in front of us which we used as a deterrent,” he said. “Countless Afghans were killed by the Taliban 155 meters in front of our position day and night.”
“We communicated the atrocities to our chain of command and intelligence assets, but nothing came of it,” he said.
Vargas-Andrews said that on the day of the August 26 suicide attack he saw a man in the crowd who fit the description of “a suicide bomber in the vicinity and near Abbey Gate.”
“Through the communication network we passed that there was a potential threat and an imminent IED attack. This was as serious as it could be,” he said, noting that he asked for permission to shoot, but “our battalion commander said, and I quote: ‘I don’t know,’ end of quote”.
“Me and my team leader asked very harshly, ‘Well, who does it? Because this is your responsibility, sir. He replied again that he didn’t know but he would find out. We didn’t get any updates and never got our response back. Finally, the individual disappeared. To this day, we believe that he was a suicide bomber,” he said.
“Plain and simple, they ignored us. Our experience was ignored. Nobody was held accountable for our safety,” she said.
‘Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it’
Beyond the suicide attack, witnesses spoke about the mental health toll the botched evacuation has taken on American veterans of the war in Afghanistan.
Mann, the retired lieutenant colonel, said he had a friend who took his own life, whose wife said “that the Afghan abandonment reactivated all the demons that I had managed to leave behind from the hard times and from Afghanistan together.”
“And he just couldn’t find his way out of the darkness of that moral damage,” he said.
They also spoke extensively about their work in trying to help Afghans who worked alongside US troops during the war. the “majority” of whom were left behind in the evacuationand the need to continue working to help them.
“Thousands of people and I received desperate pleas for help from our Afghan allies whose lives were in danger,” said Hoang of Allied Airlift 21. “Thousands of us guided tired and frightened Afghan families through crowds and Taliban checkpoints. The weight of this job was crushing. We leave jobs, we exhaust savings, we reopen old wounds.”
“We watched in horror as our screens filled with images of violence and despair outside the gates of the Kabul airport. We cried as we listened to the messages left by the children pleading for our help. Nine times out of 10 our efforts failed. But each success was a family saved, a promise kept,” she said.
“It is our turn to steel ourselves to meet our commitment to the Afghan allies still left behind,” Hoang said.
Mackler, the immigration attorney, told lawmakers that “what happened in August 2021 was the product of decades of inaction and systemic failure that we can no longer ignore.”
“To ensure that the actions we hear today have not been in vain, we must use this moment to create and implement better solutions,” he said, calling on Congress to take action such as passing the Afghan Adjustment Act.
“After all, as we have been told, those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. We saw it in Afghanistan. We tried to learn the lessons of Vietnam and were ignored, and we cannot allow a future generation to go through this as well,” Mackler said.
The CNN Wire
™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.