Marine sniper Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews was on a security detail in a Kabul tower, watching desperate Afghans trying to flee the brutal Taliban, when he was blindsided by an enormous wave of pressure.
It was August 26, 2021, and an ISIS-K suicide bomber had detonated on the perimeter of Hamid Karzai International Airport during the chaotic evacuation sparked by the Biden administration’s withdrawal of troops after 20 years in Afghanistan.
Just moments before the attack, the California veteran spotted a terrorist matching the suspect’s description and asked if he could ‘engage’, but he says his leaders refused.
Between 100 to 150 ball bearings ended up in Vargas-Andrews’ body in the explosion that killed 11 fellow Marines, two Navy corpsmen 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 broke down in tears on Wednesday as he recounted his harrowing ordeal in Congress, and criticized the Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal that Republicans have called a ‘stunning failure of leadership’.
He detailed how military leaders ignored his warnings minutes earlier, and how those stationed at the airport were told not to engage – even though the Taliban were shooting people trying to get on a plane.
Marine sniper Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews broke down in tears on Wednesday as he recounted his harrowing ordeal in Congress, and criticized the Biden administration’s Afghanistan withdrawal that Republicans have called a ‘stunning failure of leadership’
Between 100 to 150 ball bearings ended up in Vargas-Andrews’ body in the explosion that killed 11 fellow Marines, two Navy corpsmen 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 was a catastrophe in my opinion and there was an inexcusable lack of accountability and negligence,’ he told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
‘The 11 Marines, one sailor, and one solider who were murdered that day have not been answered for.’
The roll call of the dead in Kabul airport attack during U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan
The suicide attack on August 26, 2021, made use of the crowds and chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport.
It targeted a gate manned by U.S. Marines, who were tasked with trying to ensure that people with correct papers were able to advance 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. Johanny 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;
Navy Petty Officer Third Class Maxton W. Soviak;
Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss
His appearance was part of the Republican investigation into the Biden administration’s bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.
He recalled ‘surreal’ scenes at the airport, with Afghans trying to kill themselves on the razor wire rather than face Taliban ‘torture’.
He described how there was intelligence that an attack could be imminent, but they could only stand by.
‘Over the communication network, we passed that there was a potential threat and that there was an IED attack imminent – this was as serious as it could get.
‘I requested engagement authority while my team leader was ready on the M110 semi-automatic sniper system,’ he added.
‘The response, leadership did not have engagement authority for us, do not engage,’ 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 for the authority to shoot, but it wasn’t given.
‘Plain and simple, we were ignored. Our expertise was disregarded, no one was held accountable for our safety,’ he told the committee.
His sniper squad was then hit with the suicide blast.
‘I’m thrown 12 feet onto the ground but instantly knew what happened. I opened my eyes to Marines dead or unconscious and lying around,’ Vargas-Andrews said through tears, describing the events of that day.
‘A crowd of hundreds immediately vanished in front of me and my body was catastrophically wounded 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 that no one in the Pentagon or the White House has taken accountability for the missteps.
The US Marine Corps posted a photo to Twitter of the flag-draped caskets of their fallen brethren killed in the suicide bomb attack in Kabul, after the coffins arrived back on home soil on August 29, 2021
Thirteen American service members died when the suicide bomber detonated explosives packed with ball bearings amid the chaos of the city’s airport
His story followed an opening statement by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, 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 systemic breakdown of the federal government at every level, and a stunning failure of leadership by the Biden administration,’ said McCaul in his searing opening statement.
‘The president promised, “There is going to be no circumstances where you see people being lifted off the roof of an embassy like in Vietnam.” Yet they were.
‘Multiple people in the Biden administration said they’d plan for every contingency. They did not. Instead, they spent the next four months ignoring the realities.
‘As a result, when the Taliban rapidly captured territory during the summer of 2021 and entered Kabul on August 15 – we simply weren’t ready.
‘Because of the Biden administration’s dereliction of duty, the world watched heartbreaking scenes unfold in and around the Kabul airport for the next two weeks.
‘A sea of humanity, desperately trying to make it through airport gates that represented freedom.
‘We all saw the images of desperate Afghans clinging to planes as they took off – with some plummeting from the sky to their deaths.
‘Mothers handing their children to strangers over the airport walls – willingly giving them up in the hopes of saving their lives.
‘And then, horror struck on August 26.
‘A suicide bomber at Abbey Gate killed 13 American servicemembers, injuring at least 45 more, and killing approximately 170 Afghans.
‘That day was the deadliest day for American troops in Afghanistan in 10 years.’
Vargas-Andrews recalled the ‘surreal’ scenes at the airport which included Afghans trying to kill themselves on the razor wire because they didn’t want to face Taliban ‘torture’
The suicide bomber at Abbey Gate killed 13 American servicemembers, injuring at least 45 more, and killing approximately 170 Afghans