Veterans Testify of 'Catastrophic' Afghanistan Exit

'No one was held accountable'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Mar 8, 2023 6:20 PM CST
Veterans Testify of 'Catastrophic' Afghanistan Exit
Former Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews recounts his story during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on the United States evacuation from Afghanistan, Wednesday, March 8, 2023.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Active-service members and veterans provided firsthand testimony Wednesday about the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan, describing in harrowing detail the carnage and death they witnessed on the ground while imploring Congress to help the allies left behind. Former Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the stench of human flesh under a large plume of smoke as the screams of children, women and men filled the space around Kabul’s airport after two suicide bombers attacked crowds of Afghans. "I see the faces of all of those we could not save, those we left behind," said Vargas-Andrews, who lost an arm and a leg in the bombing. "The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion. And there was an inexcusable lack of accountability."

The initial hearing of a long-promised investigation by House Republicans displayed the open wounds from the end of America’s longest war in August 2021, with witnesses recalling how they saw mothers carrying dead babies and the Taliban shooting and brutally beating people, the AP reports. It was the first of what is expected to be a series of Republican-led hearings examining the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal. Taliban forces seized the Afghan capital, Kabul, far more rapidly than US intelligence had foreseen as American forces pulled out. Kabul’s fall turned the West’s withdrawal into a rout, with Kabul’s airport the center of a desperate air evacuation guarded by US forces temporarily deployed for the task.

The majority of witnesses argued to Congress that the fall of Kabul was an American failure with blame touching every presidential administration from George W. Bush to Joe Biden. Testimony focused not on the decision to withdraw, but on what witnesses depicted as a desperate attempt to rescue American citizens and Afghan allies with little US planning and inadequate US support. Vargas-Andrews sobbed as he told lawmakers of being thwarted in an attempt to stop the single deadliest moment in the US evacuation—a suicide bombing that killed 170 Afghans and 13 US service members. Vargas-Andrews said Marines and others aiding in the evacuation operation were given descriptions of men believed to be plotting an attack.

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He said he and others spotted two men matching the descriptions and behaving suspiciously, and eventually had them in their rifle scopes, but never received a response about whether to take action. "No one was held accountable," Vargas-Andrews told Republican Rep. Mike McCaul, the chairman of the committee. “No one was, and no one is, to this day." Defense Department spokesman Lt. Col. Rob Lodewick said the Pentagon's earlier review of the suicide attack had turned up neither any advance identification of a possible attacker nor any requests for "an escalation to existing rules of engagement" governing use of force. McCaul has been deeply critical of the Biden administration's handling of the withdrawal. “What happened in Afghanistan was a systemic breakdown of the federal government at every level, and a stunning failure of leadership by the Biden administration,” he said.

(More Afghanistan war stories.)

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