Marine sniper Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews was sitting on a security detail in a tower in Kabul, watching desperate Afghans try to flee from the ruthless Taliban, when he was blinded by a massive wave of pressure.
It was August 26, 2021, and an ISIS-K suicide bomber had been detonated on the outskirts of Hamid Karzai International Airport during the chaotic evacuation resulting from the Biden administration’s troop withdrawal after 20 years in Afghanistan.
Just before the attack, the California veteran spotted a terrorist who matched the suspect’s description and asked if he could “connect,” but he says his leaders refused.
Between 100 and 150 ball bearings entered Vargas-Andrews’ body in the explosion that killed 11 fellow Marines, two Marine Corps and hundreds of Afghan men, women and children. His right arm and right leg had to be amputated over the course of 43 surgeries that followed.
Vargas-Andrews burst into tears on Wednesday as he recounted his harrowing ordeal in Congress criticizing the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Republicans called a “stunning failure of leadership.”
He explained how military leaders ignored his warnings minutes earlier and how those stationed at the airport were told not to intervene – even as the Taliban shot people trying to board a plane.
Marine sniper Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews burst into tears on Wednesday as he recounted his harrowing ordeal in Congress, criticizing the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Republicans called a “stunning failure of leadership.”
Between 100 and 150 ball bearings ended up in Vargas-Andrews’ body in the explosion that killed 11 fellow Marines, two Marine Corps and hundreds of Afghan men, women and children
His right arm and right leg were amputated over the course of 43 surgeries that followed the attack
“The withdrawal, in my opinion, was a catastrophe and there was an unforgivable lack of accountability and negligence,” he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The 11 Marines, a sailor and a soldier killed that day have not been answered.”
The roll call of the dead in the Kabul airport attack during the US withdrawal from Afghanistan
The suicide bombing on August 26, 2021 took advantage of the crowds and chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
It was aimed at a gate manned by US Marines, who were supposed to try to ensure that people with the right papers could proceed to the next stage of processing.
Along with at least 170 Afghans, the following Americans died:
Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover;
Marine Corps Sgt. Johanna Rosario;
Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee;
Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez;
Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page;
Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez;
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza;
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz;
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum;
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola;
Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui;
Naval Petty Officer Third Class Maxton W. Soviak;
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss
His appearance was part of the Republican inquiry into the Biden administration’s failed withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.
He recalled “surreal” scenes at the airport, in which Afghans tried to commit suicide on barbed wire instead of undergoing “torture” by the Taliban.
He described how there was information that an attack was imminent, but all they could do was hold.
“Through the communications network, we communicated that there was a potential threat and that an IED attack was imminent – this was as serious as it could get.
“I requested permission to be engaged while my team leader was finishing up the M110 semi-automatic sniper system,” he added.
“The answer, leadership had no command authority for us, don’t get involved,” he said.
Vargas-Andrews and the Marines with him also asked a battalion commander to come to the tower to look at the suspect.
They asked permission to shoot, but it was not given.
Basically, we were ignored. Our expertise was ignored, no one was held responsible for our safety,” he told the commission.
His sniper squad was then hit by the suicide bomber.
“I was thrown 12 feet to the ground, but knew immediately what was happening. I opened my eyes to Marines lying dead or unconscious,” Vargas-Andrews said, tearfully describing the day’s events.
“A crowd of hundreds immediately disappeared in front of me and my body was catastrophically injured with 100 to 150 ball bearings now in it.”
Even after his catastrophic injuries, Vargas-Andrews claimed no one asked him for a report.
He also says no one in the Pentagon or the White House has taken responsibility for the missteps.
The US Marine Corps posted a photo on Twitter of the flag-draped coffins of their fallen brothers who died in the Kabul suicide bombing after the coffins arrived back on home soil on August 29, 2021
Thirteen US servicemen were killed when the suicide bomber detonated ball bearing explosives amid the chaos of the city’s airport
His story followed an opening statement by the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Republican Rep. Michael McCaul, criticizing the Biden administration for withdrawing troops against the advice of generals and the intelligence community.
“What happened in Afghanistan was a systematic collapse of the federal government at every level and a stunning failure of leadership by the Biden administration,” McCaul said in his scorching opening statement.
The president promised, “There won’t be circumstances where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy, like in Vietnam.” Yet they were.
Several people in the Biden administration said they would plan for any contingency. They did not. Instead, they ignored reality for the next four months.
“As a result, when the Taliban quickly took territory in the summer of 2021 and invaded Kabul on August 15, we just weren’t ready.
“Because of the Biden administration’s dereliction of duty, the world watched heartbreaking scenes unfold in and around the Kabul airport over the next two weeks.
“A sea of humanity desperately trying to get through airport gates that represented freedom.
We’ve all seen the images of desperate Afghans clinging to planes as they took off – some falling from the sky to their deaths.
“Mothers who give their children over the walls of the airport to strangers – who give them up voluntarily in the hope of saving their lives.
And then the shock hit on August 26.
A suicide bomber at Abbey Gate killed 13 US servicemen, wounded at least 45 others and killed about 170 Afghans.
“That day was the deadliest day for US troops in Afghanistan in 10 years.”
Vargas-Andrews recalled the “surreal” scenes at the airport, which included Afghans attempting suicide on barbed wire because they did not want to face Taliban “torture”
Abbey Gate suicide bomber killed 13 US servicemen, wounded at least 45 others and killed about 170 Afghans