United States Marine Tyler Justin Vargas-Andrews was left in a ball of emotions during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. Recalling the utter failure of a withdrawal from Afghanistan, and particularly the Kabul airport bombing that left him horrifically wounded both physically and mentally. Breaking down openly was not easy, nor was the loss of his mentor and friend in the blast.
That fateful day left 13 servicemembers killed under Biden’s watch and marked the highest casualty count in 10 years.
Before striking the gate, Vargas-Andrews and other Marines assigned to Abbey Gate had spotted a man who was a perfect match to an intelligence report about a suicide bomber. Around 0200 local, on August 26th, intelligence personnel had confirmed and reported a suicide bomber getting close to Abbey Gate. Listed as being clean-shaven, wearing a brown dress, black vest, and traveling alongside a close companion. When he asked why nobody apprehended him at that time, they were told the intel asset was not allowed to be compromised.
If you’ve ever been to Afghanistan, you’d realize just how difficult yet easily this description can be identified. At first, it would be everyone, but you quickly learn how to identify the differences quickly, and this would have stuck out in the chaos going on. As such, Vargas-Andrews and other Marines passed along that intel to people on the ground. He then spotted the bomber between 1200 and 1300, along with two other Marines. The man spotted fit the description to a T and was “consistently and nervously looking up at our position through the crowd.”
Passing this intel through the communication channels it spread quickly. “This was as serious as it can get. I requested engagement authority while my team leader was ready on the M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System.” However, they only received a response claiming “leadership did not have the engagement authority for us. Do not engage.”
In the interim he requested Marine LTC Brad Whited get into the tower immediately to see their observation. They also contacted psychological operations to see what they could do about the situation and confirm their sighting. They gave him a full briefing, including their ease of engagement. When asked directly to answer, he would only say “I don’t know.”
Vargas-Andrews continued “Myself and my team leader asked very harshly, ‘well, who does?’ Because this is your responsibility, Sir.’ He again replied, ‘he did not know but would find out.’ We received no update and never got our answer.” Eventually, the man disappeared. “To this day, we believe he was the suicide bomber…We made everyone on the ground aware. Operations had briefly halted but then started again. Plain and simple we were ignored. Our expertise was disregarded. No one was accountable for our safety.”
It was this point that broke Vargas-Andrews. He was now talking about Marine Staff Sergeant Darrin Hoover, his friend, and mentor.
Around 1730 they were finding an Afghan interpreter in the crowd of the canal just outside Abbey gate. While they found their terp and his brother, the duo were waiting for about five family members to get up from the canal. About 10 minutes later the blast struck. Recalling being thrown 12 feet back on the ground, he knew what happened.
“I open my eyes to Marines dead or unconscious around me. A crowd of hundreds immediately vanished in front of me and my body was catastrophically wounded with 100-150 ball bearings now in it. Almost immediately we started taking fire from the neighborhood and I saw how injured I was with my right arm completely shredded and unusable. I saw my whole lower abdomen soaked in blood. I crawled backwards 7 feet because I thought I was still in harm’s way.”
He then begged to have his testimony added to the record. Just like he did on that day. “Please ask me about getting shot at in the tower at Abbey gate and how no one wanted my report post-blast. Even NCIS and the FBI failed to interview me. Ask me to elaborate on my ordeal post-blast. Ask me about this one little girl and her family I reunited. Our military members and veterans deserve our best because that is what we give to America.”