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Tipsheet

Marine Sniper: I Was Denied Permission to Take Out Kabul Airport Suicide Bomber

AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon

After many long months without oversight or accountability for President Joe Biden's disastrous and deadly withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, the House of Representatives' Republican majority is finally doing what the preceding Democrat majority never did: hearing from those whose lives were forever changed on the front lines of the chaos in Afghanistan at the end of two decades of U.S. involvement. 

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Tyler Vargas-Andrews, a sergeant in the United States Marines, was in Kabul as the Biden administration's haphazard withdrawal took place. He was at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) watching the chaos unfold, and he was one of the hundreds of individual wounded when a suicide bomber attacked one of the airport's gates where hundreds of individuals were waiting to be screened for evacuation.

In an emotional opening statement to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday, Vargas-Andrews told his story, one that the Biden administration never highlighted and Democrats in Congress apparently didn't want on the record. 

On August 26, 2021, Vargas-Andrews was in position at HKIA when he noticed suspicious individuals outside the gate to the airport as thousands of people were attempting to flee Afghanistan as it fell to the Taliban, fearful for the future and what retribution anyone who'd helped American forces over the previous twenty years would face. 

"I requested engagement authority when my team leader was ready on the M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System," Vargas-Andrews said, testifying in his personal capacity. "The response: leadership did not have the engagement authority for us — do not engage."

Vargas-Andrews said he requested that his battalion commander "come to the tower to see what we did. While we waited for him, psychological operations individuals came to our tower immediately and confirmed the suspect met the suicide bomber description," Vargas-Andrews recounted. When the battalion commander "eventually arrived," he was presented with the evidence and photos of two men, one who met the description of a suicide bomber. "Pointedly, we asked him for engagement authority and permission — we asked him if we could shoot," Vargas-Andrews told lawmakers. "Our battalion commander said, and I quote, 'I don't know.'"

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"Myself and my team leader asked very harshly, 'Well, who does? Because this is your responsibility, sir," Vargas-Andrews explained. "He again replied he did not know but would find out. We received no update and never got our answer."

"Eventually the individual disappeared," Vargas-Andrews continued. "To this day, we believe he was the suicide bomber. We made everyone on the ground aware," he said. "Operations had briefly halted but then started again. Plain and simple, we were ignored. Our expertise was disregarded — no one was held accountable for our safety."

After being denied engagement authority by the battalion commander, Vargas-Andrews explained that at "about 17:30, Staff Sgt. Darin Hoover" — one of the 13 service members killed during the withdrawal who Vargas-Andrews described as a "friend and mentor" before getting choked up — "came to get me from the tower to go help find an Afghan interpreter in the crowd." 

"We found the interpreter and his brother," Vargas-Andrews recounted. "They told us of five family members still in the canal" along the HKIA perimeter. "I stayed there waiting for the family members, standing against the two-foot canal wall," he said. "Ten minutes passed, then a flash and a massive wave of pressure — I'm thrown 12 feet onto the ground but instantly knew what had happened," Vargas-Andrews explained. "I opened my eyes to Marines dead or unconscious around me."

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"A crowd of hundreds immediately vanished in front of me, and my body was catastrophically wounded with 100-150 ball bearings now in it," Vargas-Andrews explained. "Almost immediately, we started taking fire from the neighborhood and I saw how injured I was, with my right arm completed shredded and unusable. I saw my lower abdomen soaked in blood. I crawled backward roughly seven feet because I thought I was still in harm's way," he recalled. "My body was overwhelmed from the trauma of the blast — my abdomen had been ripped open. Every inch of my exposed body except for my face took ball bearings and shrapnel," Vargas-Andrews continued.

"I tried to get up but could not. Laying there for a few minutes I started to lose consciousness," Vargas-Andrews remembered. That's when he said he heard his team leader "screaming my name as he ran to me. His voice calling to me kept me awake," he added. "When he got to me, he dragged me to safety and immediately started triaging me, tying tourniquets on my limbs and doing anything he could to stop the bleeding and start plugging wounds with the help of the other Marines," Vargas-Andrews said. "I was awake through most of it — screaming, moaning, and cursing."

Vargas-Andrews concluded his opening statement by asking lawmakers to question him about what happened to him that day in Kabul and what he witnessed — and how "even NCIS and the FBI failed to interview" him as the Biden administration investigated their own deadly withdrawal.

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"Our military members and veterans deserve our best because that is what we give to America," Vargas-Andrews said. "The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion, and there was an inexcusable lack of accountability and negligence," he added. "The 11 Marines, one Sailor, and one Soldier that were murdered that day have not been answered for."

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