WASHINGTON — A Marine sergeant who was nearly killed in the deadly terrorist attack during the chaotic 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan gave powerful and moving testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday when the Republicans began their first hearing on the issue since the reconquest. most.

“I opened my eyes to the dead or unconscious Marines lying around me. …My body was overwhelmed by the trauma of the explosion. My abdomen had been ripped open, every inch of my exposed body except my face took ball bearings and shrapnel,» said Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, 25, who choked and spent several minutes trying to regain his composure while recounting the Abbey Gate bombing at Kabul Airport on August 26, 2021.

Thirteen US service members were killed in the blast, which also claimed the lives of 170 other Afghan civilians.

Vargas-Andrews, whose sniper team was assisting in the evacuation at the airport, was one of 45 US service members injured that day. He lost multiple organs and two limbs, and has since had 44 operations.

“Our military and veterans deserve the best because that’s what we give America. The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion, and there was an inexcusable lack of responsibility and negligence,” Vargas-Andrews said. «The 11 Marines, one sailor and one soldier who were killed that day have not been answered.»

The House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, heard powerful testimony from Vargas-Andrews and other Afghanistan war veterans, who were serving on the ground during the disastrous evacuation o trying to help the Americans and Afghan allies. flee the war torn nation.

in 115 pages interim report Released last fall, McCaul blamed President Joe Biden’s administration for the chaos at the airport and said it had failed to adequately plan for the fallout from the pullout.

“What happened in Afghanistan was a systemic collapse of the federal government at every level, and a stunning failure of leadership by the Biden administration,” McCaul said in his opening remarks, adding that more than 1,000 US citizens and approximately 200,000 Afghan allies and partners were left behind.

“This was an abdication of the most basic duties of the United States government to protect the American people and leave no one behind,” McCaul continued. «I want every member of the Gold and Blue Star family and every veteran watching this today to know that I will not rest and this committee will not rest until we determine how this happened and hold those responsible accountable.»

The US left behind some 78,000 Afghan allies who had worked for the US government and applied for special visas, according to a report last year from the Association of Wartime Allies, a non-profit, non-governmental organization. profit.

As they fought to get Americans and allies out of Afghanistan in the fight, some congressional offices became «mini-state departments» and partnered with veterans and nonprofit groups, McCaul said.

«It was often referred to as ‘Schindler’s List’: if you’re on the list, you made it out alive. If you weren’t, you didn’t,» McCaul said.

Several GOP-led committees, including the House Oversight and Armed Services panels, are investigating the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. But by inviting the veterans to testify Wednesday, the Foreign Affairs Committee was seeking to draw attention to the human cost of the chaotic withdrawal.

Afghans board a Kam Air plane at Kabul airport on August 6, 2021.
Afghans board a Kam Air plane at Kabul airport on August 6, 2021.Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images file

Others who appeared before the panel Wednesday included Scott Mann, a former Green Beret who served multiple tours in Afghanistan and founded Task Force Pineapple, which helped evacuate approximately 1,000 Afghan allies from the country, and Aiden Gunderson, a former combat medic. from the Army who was deployed twice to Afghanistan and assisted with the evacuation.

Gunderson called the withdrawal «disastrous».

«I want the Americans to know the truth: that the withdrawal from Afghanistan was an organizational failure on multiple levels,» said Gunderson, who described arriving on the tarmac of Kabul airport where desperate Afghans, clinging to the landing gear of planes they had fallen hundreds of feet to their deaths

«We got to the middle of the track where there were blood soaked and dusty clothes and headscarves smoldering on the ground,» he continued. «At that moment, I really understood that the Afghans were risking everything, even death, to escape the Taliban.»

After the deadly attack, Biden said he inherited the deal his predecessor Donald Trump made with the Taliban for US forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021. Biden said it was the right decision to carry out the exit plan and put an end to both -decade of war instead of sending troops back and escalating the conflict.

«I totally agree with my decision,» Biden said in a speech after the attack. «After 20 years, I learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.»

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