Upon criticism that the deadly assault on the US forces during Afghanistan withdrawal could have been stopped, the Pentagon’s Central Command has ordered interviews of nearly two dozen more service members who were at the Kabul airport when suicide bombers attacked the military.
Head of US Central Command Gen. Erik Kurilla ordered the interviews after assertions by at least one service member who was injured in the blast following his claim that he was never interviewed about it and that he might have been able to stop the attackers.
The interviews will be carried out to ascertain whether the service members who were not included in the original investigation have any new or different information.
According to the officials, the decision does not reopen the investigation into the deadly bombing and the US withdrawal from Afghanistan two years ago. But the additional interviews will likely be seized on by congressional critics, mostly Republican, as proof that the administration bungled the probe into the attack, in addition to mishandling the withdrawal.
A few families of those killed and injured have complained that the Pentagon has not been transparent enough regarding the bombing that claimed 170 Afghan lives and also killed 13 US servicemen and women.
The US Central Command’s investigation into the incident concluded in November 2021 that due to the worsening situation at the airport’s Abbey Gate as Afghans became increasingly desperate to flee, “the attack was not preventable at the tactical level without degrading the mission to maximize the number of evacuees.”
The Central Command plans to consult various service members who sustained severe injuries in the bombing at the Abbey Gate and had to be immediately evacuated from the country for medical care. Some others who were not injured are also included in the planned interviews. Officials also did not rule out that the number of interviews could grow as a result of those initial conversations.
“The purpose of these interviews is to ensure we do our due diligence with the new information that has come to light, that the relevant voices are fully heard and that we take those accounts and examine them seriously and thoroughly so the facts are laid bare,” Central Command spokesperson Michael Lawhorn said in a statement.
The officials began delivering the information to the families of members of those killed in the bombing and also the Congress members about the latest plan on Friday (September 15). Lt. Gen. Patrick Frank, head of Army Central Command, is overseeing the team conducting the interviews, which is led by Army Brig. Gen. Lance Curtis. Gen. Kurilla has asked Frank to provide an update in 90 days.
In an emotional testimony during a congressional hearing in March, former Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews said that he was thwarted in an attempt to stop the suicide bombing, adding that Marines and others helping out in the evacuation process were given descriptions of men believed to be plotting an attack before it occurred.
He said that he and others saw two men who matched the descriptions and behaved suspiciously. However, the US forces never received a response about whether to take action.
“No one was held accountable,” Vargas-Andrews told Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “No one was, and no one is, to this day.”
The March hearing was set up to examine the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal. Taliban forces took over Kabul much rapidly than U.S. intelligence had foreseen as American forces withdrew. Kabul’s fall turned the West’s withdrawal into a frenzy, putting the airport at the center of a desperate air evacuation by U.S. troops.
In April, President Biden’s administration blamed his predecessor, President Donald Trump, for the deadly withdrawal.
The administration has refused to release detailed reviews conducted by the State Department and the Pentagon, saying they are highly classified.
(With AP inputs)