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Amidst the chaotic withdrawal of US armed forces from Afghanistan in 2021, a terrorist attack at Kabul’s airport killed at least 183 people, including 13 American servicemembers. Now, almost two years later, House Republicans believe the Pentagon owes them, and the American people, more answers regarding what happened on that day and whether the attack could have been prevented.
“Battlefield decisions are often made in a cloud,” wrote House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX) in a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “but in honor of the lives lost and those still living following that terrible day, it is incumbent we learn whether events were avoidable and if uncertain procedures, broken lines of communication, or worse, contributed to the lack of engagement.”
The two lawmakers note that the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on the withdrawal from Afghanistan in March during which a witness, Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, testified that he and his sniper team believed that they had identified the suicide bomber who carried out the attack.
Vargas-Andrews also told the committee that they did not take out the attacker because their leaders were not clear on who could approve such a mission.
Now, the two chairmen want answers from the Pentagon regarding the events that surrounded the August 26, 2021, attack.
Specifically, they asked the Pentagon to provide “a detailed description of the response to the request for engagement authority by Sergeant Vargas-Andrews’ sniper team, including fully detailing each step in its consideration, the request’s outcome, and the reason for any decisions.”
More broadly, Rogers and McCaul also want to see all documents referencing or relating to what happened at the airport that day. The information they seek includes:
- Any request for engagement authority
- Any document, communication or intelligence product “referencing or relating to the identity of the perpetrator(s) and planner(s)” of the attack
- All documents and communications related to the rules of engagement in place that day
- All audio and video evidence of the events, such as drone footage and videos recorded by servicemembers or eyewitnesses on private devices
- All messaging and/or chat room logs in the possession of the Department of Defense that relate to any engagement with threats at or near the airport in the weeks before and after the attack
The lawmakers ask that this information be made available to them by June 2.
This investigation is part of a broader probe of the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. Republicans believe that the chaotic scenes at the airport, as well as the takeover of the country by the Taliban, are evidence of a massive foreign policy blunder on the part of President Joe Biden.
The White House, in its own assessment, tried to lay the blame for the chaos at the feet of former President Donald Trump but acknowledged that, as commander in chief, the ultimate responsibility rested with Biden.