Tyler Vargas-Andrews, a Marine sergeant during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, broke down Wednesday while recounting his experience watching 13 U.S. troops killed by a suicide bomber.
Vargas-Andrews appeared in front of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs to speak about his experience in Afghanistan. A Marine sniper at the time, Vargas-Andrews and his team were ordered from Saudi Arabia to Kabul, Afghanistan, in August 2021 to oversee the final weeks of the U.S. withdrawal.
After arriving at Hamid Karzai International Airport in mid-August, Vargas-Andrews and his sniper team were assigned to the airport’s Abbey Gate, where the Marines processed thousands of Afghans fleeing Afghanistan, turned away thousands of others, and monitored Taliban and other terrorist activity outside the gate.
“Tens of thousands of people descended upon Abbey Gate. We were looking for anyone with a blue passport first and foremost. People were suffering from extreme malnutrition, dehydration, heat casualties, and infants were dying. Afghans brutalized and tortured by the Taliban flocked to us pleading for help,” Vargas-Andrews said in his prepared testimony. “Some Afghans turned away from HKIA tried to kill themselves on the razor wire we used as a deterrent. They thought this was merciful compared to the Taliban torture they faced. Countless Afghans were murdered by the Taliban 155 yards in front of our position day and night.”
The State Department’s “unwillingness” to help with operations at the airport contributed to the chaos, Vargas-Andrews said.
On August 22, either ISIS or Taliban militants conducted a “test run” for a terror attack with an improvised explosive device (IED). On August 26, Vargas-Andrews’ team received a description of the suspected terrorist bomber and, later that day, identified a man near the Abbey gate who fit the description and “consistently and nervously” kept looking at the Marines stationed near the gate.
Vargas-Andrews said his team asked twice for permission to take out the suspected terrorist. The first time, he was denied. The second time, the battalion commander, who came to Abbey Gate to see the suspect himself, replied, “I don’t know” if they had the authority to take out the suspect.
“Myself and my team leader asked very harshly, ‘Well, who does? Because this is your responsibility, sir,’” Vargas-Andrews told Congress. The commander responded that he would find out.
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“We received no update and never got our answer. Eventually the individual disappeared,” Vargas-Andrews said. “To this day, we believe he was the suicide bomber.”
Hours later, a bomb blast ripped through the crowds outside of Abbey Gate, killing an estimated 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. service members. Vargas-Andrews was seriously injured in the explosion, losing his right arm, left leg, left kidney, and parts of his intestines and colon. He has had dozens of surgeries since.
In recounting his memories of August 26, Vargas-Andrews had to pause several times to choke back tears.
“Our military members and veterans deserve our best because that is what we give to America,” he said. “The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion and there was an inexcusable lack of accountability and negligence. The eleven Marines, one Sailor, and one Soldier that were murdered that day have not been answered for.”
Emotional testimony from Sgt. Vargas-Andrews on suicide bombing outside of Kabal airport: “I opened my eyes to marines dead or unconscious lying around me…The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion. There was an inexcusable lack of accountability. and negligence.” pic.twitter.com/9DLr9LGP8u
— CSPAN (@cspan) March 8, 2023