‘We Had been Ignored’: Veterans and Troops Element Horrors of Afghanistan Evacuation as Home Investigation Begins

Service members and veterans who helped evacuate Afghans in August 2021 testified in harrowing element about their experiences Wednesday in the course of the first listening to of the GOP-controlled Home Overseas Affairs Committee’s investigation into the Biden administration’s chaotic exit from America’s longest battle.

Among the many witnesses was Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, a still-serving Marine Corps sniper, who beforehand instructed The Washington Put up he believes he recognized the suicide bomber who killed 13 U.S. troops outdoors the Kabul airport however was denied approval to shoot him earlier than the assault. On Wednesday, Vargas-Andrews, preventing to speak by means of tears, recounted the assault, which left him with an amputated leg and arm.

“Plain and easy, we have been ignored,” Vargas-Andrews stated about his and others’ efforts to get approval to shoot the individual they suspected to be the suicide bomber. “My physique was overwhelmed from the trauma of the blast. My stomach had been ripped open. Each inch of my uncovered physique aside from my face took ball bearings and shrapnel.”

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Additionally testifying Wednesday was Aidan Gunderson, a former Army specialist who served as a medic deployed to the Hamid Karzai Worldwide Airport in the course of the Afghanistan withdrawal. He described seeing “blood-saturated, dusty clothes and head scarves smolder[ing]” in the midst of the runway that “coated the lifeless our bodies” of Afghans who fell from a U.S. C-17 Globemaster III after clinging to the touchdown gear whereas it was taking off.

After the suicide bombing on Aug. 26, 2021, Gunderson recalled that “an injured Marine with bloodsoaked pants squeeze my hand as tightly as he may and appeared into my eyes, yelling, ‘I do not wish to die.'”

“I reassured him that he can be positive, however as they carried him inside, I didn’t know if he would survive,” testified Gunderson, who famous he was born a 12 months earlier than the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist assaults that sparked the battle. “Departing on Aug. 31 on one of many final flights in a foreign country, I used to be relieved to be headed house, however I puzzled how the horror I simply witnessed modified me, how it could change us all. I can guarantee you that it has.”

Wednesday’s listening to served as an emotional public kickoff to an investigation Republicans had vowed can be a precedence of their Home majority.

Final 12 months, whereas Republicans have been within the minority, now-Home Overseas Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, launched an “interim” report that criticized President Joe Biden for the withdrawal. However the report was primarily based largely on open-source info and lacked a lot new information. Now within the majority, Republicans are hoping to compel the Biden administration to ship Congress long-sought paperwork concerning the withdrawal.

Forward of the listening to, GOP committee workers stated the session was supposed to be a “reminder why this investigation is so vital” by listening to service members and veterans personally concerned in and affected by the evacuation.

Along with Vargas-Andrews and Gunderson, the committee heard from three veterans who lead teams that labored from america to get their Afghan interpreters and different allies onto evacuation flights: Francis Hoang of Allied Airlift 21, David Scott Mann of Activity Power Pineapple, and Peter Lucier of Group America Reduction.

The Biden administration has solid the evacuation as a hit since 120,000 folks, together with 76,000 Afghans, have been airlifted out. However tens of 1000’s of Afghans who helped the U.S. navy and so are eligible to immigrate to the U.S. have been left behind, whereas the veterans who helped with the evacuation effort say they proceed to undergo psychological scars due to their expertise. And the Aug. 26 suicide bombing that killed 11 Marines, one sailor and one soldier — in addition to at the very least 170 Afghan civilians — was one of many single deadliest days for U.S. forces of your complete battle.

Whereas a number of of the witnesses Wednesday requested lawmakers to keep away from partisanship within the investigation, and a number of other committee members stated they agreed the subject was too vital to be marred by partisanship, speeches from members in the course of the session largely retread well-worn partisan speaking factors: Republicans blasting Biden for failing to plan for the collapse of Kabul, and Democrats blaming the Trump administration for negotiating the cope with the Taliban that set the stage for the withdrawal.

“It’s typically referred to love Schindler’s Listing,” McCaul stated Wednesday concerning the evacuation. “Should you’re on the record, you made it out alive. Should you weren’t, you did not. What occurred in Afghanistan was a systemic breakdown of the federal authorities at each degree and a shocking, beautiful failure of management by the Biden administration.”

Committee rating member Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., acknowledged that “errors have been made alongside the best way,” however confused that “evacuation didn’t occur in a vacuum,” pointing to the Trump administration’s cope with the Taliban.

The veterans at Wednesday’s listening to described the gut-wrenching messages they acquired from Afghans throughout and for the reason that evacuation and the emotional worth these messages have exacted on them.

Mann, a retired Army Inexperienced Beret, stated a former Navy SEAL in Activity Power Pineapple acquired one message on encrypted messaging app Sign that learn: “My daughter has been trampled. I do know we’re going to miss our likelihood to flee, however she’s unconscious and barely respiration. It is okay, my good friend. Thanks for attempting.”

Mann, his voice cracking, additionally described a Inexperienced Beret veteran good friend who died by suicide a couple of months in the past after “the Afghan abandonment reactivated all of the demons that he managed to place behind him from our time in Afghanistan collectively.”

In the meantime, Gunderson and Vargas-Andrews detailed the dysfunction and horror they witnessed on the bottom in Kabul.

“We heard around-the-clock gunshots and screams,” Gunderson stated. “The gunfire was both the Taliban executing somebody or a warning shot used for crowd management.”

Vargas-Andrews stated the Taliban routinely executed civilians in view of U.S. service members and that he and others “communicated the atrocities to our chain of command” however that “nothing got here of it.”

Vargas-Andrews additionally stated he witnessed Afghans who have been turned away from the airport attempt to “kill themselves on the razor wire” surrounding the airport as a result of “they thought this was merciful in comparison with the Taliban torture they confronted.”

Vargas-Andrews stated he has not been interviewed in any Pentagon investigations into the withdrawal.

“It makes me really feel like my service shouldn’t be valued to this nation, by the federal government,” he stated.

Nonetheless, he recounted at the very least one occasion he stated makes him really feel like his time in Kabul mattered. A younger lady with a tear-stained face and her toddler brother had squeezed their manner by means of the gang holding a child with a blue and purple face. Vargas-Andrews discovered a medic who resuscitated the infant whereas the lady tugged on his uniform begging for her father. Whereas standing atop an SUV, Vargas-Andrews held the lady up and requested whether or not she noticed her dad. After a couple of minutes, she pointed to a person within the crowd of a whole lot carrying a household’s-worth of baggage on his head, and the person began crying when he noticed her.

“I let the troops down there on the opening of the gate … know to assist get this man by means of,” Vargas-Andrews stated. “For me, that was a second that my private damage was price it. And I do know these three little youngsters have a lifetime of freedom and alternative now.”

On the finish of the listening to, McCaul requested others who have been concerned with the evacuation to submit their tales to the committee.

— Rebecca Kheel may be reached at rebecca.kheel@navy.com. Comply with her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

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