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'The withdrawal was a catastrophe,' says US marine of exit from Afghanistan in testimony before Congress

The sniper says his team was denied authority to shoot suicide bomber in Afghanistan who subsequently killed 13 US service members

US Marine Corps Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews testifying before Congress (Photo: Screenshot)

A United States Marine Corps sniper, who was on duty in Afghanistan during the deadly suicide bomber attack on Aug. 26, 2021 at Kabul International Airport, shared his moving testimony before the United States Congress on Wednesday.

U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews described the events of that day as "surreal," detailing the terrible tragedy, loss of life and the chaos surrounding the U.S. military's withdrawal from the war-torn country after the incident that killed 13 U.S. service members and over 100 Afghans. 

Sergeant Vargas-Andrews was severely injured in the attack – losing an arm and a leg in the attack. He criticized the U.S. Biden government's decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan in light of the situation on the ground that day, claiming that his sniper team was denied “engagement authority” after identifying a suspected suicide bomber just before the bombing.

“The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion, and there was an inexcusable lack of accountability, and negligence,” Vargas-Andrews concluded. “The 11 marines, one sailor, and one soldier that were murdered that day have not been answered for.”

Vargas-Andrews noted in his testimony that, prior to the attack, his team had received a report of a suicide bomber heading toward a gate at Kabul International Airport: “Around 2 a.m. on August 26th, intel guys confirmed the suicide bomber in the vicinity of and nearing Abbey Gate.”

“Over the communication network we passed that there was a potential threat and an IED attack imminent. This was as serious as it could get,” Vargas-Andrews said. “I requested engagement authority while my teammate was ready on the M10 semi-automatic sniper system. The response: Leadership did not have the engagement authority for us – do not engage.”

After “psychological operations individuals” came and “confirmed the suspect met the suicide bomber description,” Vargas-Andrew’s said he and his teammate asked their battalion commander “for engagement authority permission. We asked him if we could shoot.”

According to Vargas-Andrews, the battalion commander said, “I don’t know.” While the commander said he would go to find out, the snipers “never got an update.”

“Eventually the individual disappeared, and to this day we believe he was the suicide bomber,” Vargas-Andrews said. “We made everyone on the ground aware. Operations had briefly halted, but then started again. Plain and simple, we were ignored. Our expertise was disregarded.”

Describing the attack to Congress, he said there was “a flash and a massive wave of pressure. I’m thrown 12 feet onto the ground but instantly knew what had happened. I opened my eyes to Marines dead or unconscious lying around me. A crowd of a hundred immediately vanished in front of me, and my body was catastrophically wounded with a 100 to 150 ball bearings now in it.”

Vargas-Andrews' voice joins many others who believe Biden's withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan was a legacy-defining disaster.

“The most astonishing display of gross incompetence by a nation’s leader, perhaps at any time,” said former U.S. President Donald Trump, who had negotiated the withdrawal agreement Biden inherited in January.

While there was widespread agreement among Americans that U.S. troops should withdraw from Afghanistan after over two decades of conflict, the Biden administration’s 2021 withdrawal, which was followed by the Taliban’s takeover of the country, has received widespread criticism.

White House Spokesperson Ian Sams defended the withdrawal, however.

“Instead of returning the U.S. to active combat with the Taliban and putting even more of our troops’ lives at risk, President Biden made the tough decision to finally end the 20-year war in Afghanistan, bring our troops home and safely evacuate tens upon tens of thousands of Americans and Afghan allies.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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