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Tipsheet

'Catastrophic': New Probe Launched Into Pentagon's Chain of Command During Afghanistan Withdrawal

AP Photo/Wali Sabawoon

The House GOP majority is again putting its oversight powers to use and looking to learn more from the Biden administration's Pentagon brass about the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan — specifically about the chain of command at Kabul's Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA).

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In a letter to Biden's Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley on Thursday, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL) and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-TX), explain the basis for their questions:

On March 8, 2023, the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) held a hearing examining the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan. During the hearing, HFAC heard testimony from witnesses on the scene of the August 26, 2021, terrorist attack at Abbey Gate, which killed 13 American service members and wounded another 45, also killing approximately 170 Afghan civilians. Testimony during the hearing raises serious questions regarding the events leading up to the attack, which must be answered.

Marine Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews, a sniper badly wounded in the explosion, testified that his sniper team believed they identified the suicide bomber responsible for the attack earlier in the day. According to his testimony, Sergeant Vargas-Andrews and his team did not eliminate the threat due to their leadership’s uncertainty as to who held the authority to approve or deny engagement.

As Townhall reported at the time of his testimony, Vargas-Andrews recounted how 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." 

Acknowledging that "[b]attlefield decisions are often made in a cloud," Chairmen McCaul and Rogers write in the letter that, "in honor of the lives lost and those still living following that terrible day, it is incumbent we learn whether events were avoidable and if uncertain procedures, broken lines of communication, or worse, contributed to the lack of engagement."

To achieve that goal, the GOP lawmakers request information and answers to a number of questions by June 2, 2023:

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1. A detailed description of the response to the request for engagement authority by Sergeant Vargas-Andrews’ sniper team, including fully detailing each step in its consideration, the request’s outcome, and the reason for any decisions;

2. All documents and communications referencing or relating to the events at Abbey Gate on August 26, 2021, including but not limited to:

a. All documents and communications referencing or relating to the request bySergeant Vargas-Andrews’ sniper team for engagement authority, or any other such request by other service members;

b. All documents, communications, or intelligence products referencing or relating to the identity of the perpetrator(s) and planner(s) of the Abbey Gate attack;

c. All documents and communications referencing or relating to the Rules of Engagement in effect at the time of the Abbey Gate attack;

d. All video, audio, and/or photographs of the events at and around Abbey Gate onAugust 26, 2021, including, but not limited to, those from U.S. government equipment (raid cameras, drones, phones, etc.) as well as personal devices of service members and eyewitnesses (phones, cameras, GoPros, etc); and,

e. All messaging and/or chat room logs in the possession of the Department ofDefense (text messages, ChatSurfer logs, etc.) relating to engaging with threats in the vicinity of Hamid Karzai International Airport (“HKIA”) between August 1st and September 31st, 2021; and,

3. Concerning the “Department of Defense Afghanistan After Action Review: January 2020–August 2021” (AAR) and the November 8, 2022, Memorandum for the Record from Secretary Austin (MFR):

a. Footnotes in the AAR, all of which were omitted from the copies of the AAR received by the Committee on Armed Services; and,

b. Transcripts of all interviews conducted during and in furtherance of production of the AAR.

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