US military considers controversy over Marines having Kabul bomber in sight

US military considers controversy over Marines having Kabul bomber in sight

A Marine who survived a devastating suicide bombing during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan mistakenly believed there was an attacker in his sights hours before the explosion, disputes claims in Congress and the media. This was revealed through a new military inspection.

The findings were announced on Monday after being shared with the families of 13 military personnel killed in an attack on the edge of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport in August 2021. It relied on recognition techniques and interviews with Marines and others who were not questioned.meanwhile The previous investigation was conducted immediately after the explosion. A new investigation finds that the Marines, diligently performing their duties as a sniper team, confused vetted intelligence reports with unverified “field reports” prepared by military personnel in the field. .

“For the past two years, some military personnel have claimed that they had the bomber in their sights and were able to prevent the attack,” a member of the research team told reporters on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations. He told the group. Pentagon. “But we now know that’s not true.”

The new scrutiny highlights how the bombing, which killed about 170 Afghans and injured another 45 U.S. service members, continues to haunt both survivors and the Biden administration.

The attack, which had been expected for days, was a hastily arranged airlift as Taliban fighters surged into Afghanistan’s capital and the U.S.-backed government fled, ending two decades of war. It was a shocking disaster that brought 124,000 people to safety. The incident remains a low point for President Biden, with House Republicans continuing to investigate the policy decisions that led to the incident and vowing to hold President Biden and his administration accountable for the bloodshed.

The military’s additional inspections came in September, more than a year after a Marine who survived the bombing surfaced claims that an Islamic State operative responsible for the attack may have been shot. It was ordered by Gen. Michael “Eric” Kurilla, commander of U.S. Central Command. He died before he could harm anyone. This issue was first raised by Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews gave an interview to The Washington Post near the one-year anniversary of the attack and later testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“To this day, we believe he is a suicide bomber,” Vargas-Andrews told lawmakers under oath last year. “Plain and simple, we were ignored. Our expertise was ignored.”

In a telephone interview, Vargas Andrews highly praised the work of the investigative team, saying that after last week’s press conference, it is now clear that the “bald man in black” (distinguished by his black scarf and shaved head) was not the suicide victim. He said he agreed. Bomber.

“I just want to say this: I think the investigative team did a really good job and was very thorough,” said Vargas Andrews, who lost an arm and a leg in the explosion and underwent dozens of surgeries over the next year. Ta.

But he added that he believed it was still possible that the Marines had the final bomber in sight. They photographed numerous suspicious people and passed the images up the chain of command, but many of the photos went missing, including those of two other men the Marines asked for permission to photograph, he said. said.

“They told us straight up in the briefing, ‘Hey, these photos don’t exist anywhere,'” he says.

A person familiar with the team’s work, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the situation, confirmed that some of the photos taken by the sniper team and other forces went missing in the chaotic final days of the evacuation.

The newspaper could not confirm whether the snipers had asked for permission to shoot other suspects, but a person familiar with the investigation said similar rules of engagement apply unless the men show specific hostility. He said the military’s capabilities would have been limited.

Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said the suspicion that a suicide bomber slipped through the cracks shows the need for accountability. In a recent hearing, retired Gen. Mark A. Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told lawmakers that the “fundamental mistake” the Biden administration made was that the State Department “failed to begin evacuations before the time was up.” That’s true.” slow. “

Members of the review team told reporters that Vargas Andrews’ sniper team (call sign Reaper 2) was sent to the chain of command after a man the Marines believed to be suspicious showed up at the airport’s Abbey gate around 7 a.m. He said he was encouraged to report suspicious activity through the website. In response, operations center personnel issued an alert known as “BOLO,” short for “to monitor.”

“BOLO: Abbeygate sniper acting suspiciously in crowd, clean shaven,” according to a message included in an explanatory slide sent to military personnel that day and shared with the media. “We have identified a bald person.” “The person is acting calm and is not rushing towards the gate, sitting along the wall. The person has a backpack and another transparent bag, which he was carrying around. .”

Around 8 a.m., Vargas Andrews’ team radioed to request permission to shoot the man and eliminate the threat he believed he posed. The request was denied after about 30 minutes.

Vargas Andrews told the deputy that he then asked a senior commander to come to the security tower to observe the suspected bomber and asked again if he had permission to fire, to which the commander replied: I don’t have permission,” he said. know. The investigation team found that the man disappeared into the crowd around 10am.

In explanatory slides released by the Pentagon, the review team shared an image of the man and said it did not match numerous photos of suicide bombers. A member of the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, the militants later identified as Abdul Rahman Al. -Rogali.

According to verification team officials, the bomber did not arrive at the monastery’s gates until shortly before the explosion. The official declined to say what the military inspectorate had determined, saying some aspects of the matter remained confidential. According to members of the research team, al-Loghali was one of thousands of fighters freed several weeks ago by Taliban fighters emptying Afghan government prisons on a march to Kabul.

The review team interviewed 52 people, including Vargas Andrews and dozens of others who were injured in the explosion in fall 2021 and were unable to speak to investigators. According to members of the re-investigation team, 18 people interviewed in the first investigation were re-interviewed.

The review team also addressed several other issues, corroborating the testimony of ordinary soldiers who witnessed Taliban fighters outside the airport abusing and killing civilians trying to flee the country. The top U.S. military commander, Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, negotiated an uneasy deal with the group’s leaders in which the U.S. military would provide security at the airport and its surrounding area, while the Taliban would provide security outside. Later, militants were placed there.

The review team assessed that U.S. soldiers who participated in the evacuation complied with the rules of engagement, saying the guidance was “clear, understood, and followed.”

However, the verification team did not address numerous reports from survivors that militants opened fire on U.S. military personnel after the explosion. Initial investigations revealed that the loss of life was caused by a single explosion and that the troops who reported returning after receiving gunfire were probably disoriented in the confusion.

“If anything, we just confirmed our contention that there was no complex attack,” said one member of the review team.

Eleven Marines were killed in the attack: Lance Corporal; David Espinoza, 20 years old. Sergeant Nicole Gee, 23 years old. Staff Sergeant Darrin Taylor Hoover, 31; Corporal Hunter Lopez, 22 years old. Lance Corporal Dylan R. Melora, 20 years old. Lance Corporal Riley McCallum, 20 years old. Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoi, 20 years old. Corporal Degan William Tyler Page, 23 years old. Sergeant Johany Rosario Pichardo, 25 years old. Corporal Humberto Sanchez, 22 years old. said Lance Corporal. Jared Schmitz (20). Army Staff Sergeant Jared Schmitz was also killed. Ryan Knauss, 23, and Naval Hospital Sergeant Maxton Sobiak, 22.

Huber’s father, Darrin Huber, said in an interview that the family had been notified of the team’s findings on each of the past two weekends. He said the team had provided “a lot more detailed information than we were initially given,” but he still doubted whether they knew the full truth about the suicide bomber. .

“To be honest, that doesn’t make much sense,” he said. “I think there’s a lot more they’re not telling us.”

The elder Hoover said the Marines who were present after the explosion continue to claim they were attacked and returned fire, and he remains disgusted that the U.S. relies on the Taliban to provide security outside the airport. He said he was holding her.

“Here we recognize the enemy as our security,” he said. “That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

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