After Marine's Testimony, Republicans Seek Answers from Pentagon on Bombing During Afghanistan Withdrawal

Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews at House hearing on evacuation from Afghanistan.
Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, who was gravely injured, losing an arm and a leg in a suicide attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, recounts his story during a House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on the United States evacuation from Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Top House lawmakers want the Pentagon to give more details on the lead-up to a suicide bombing outside Afghanistan's Kabul airport in 2021 that killed 13 U.S. troops, following testimony from a Marine who claimed to have identified the bomber before the attack.

Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, a Marine Corps sniper who testified to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March, said he couldn't get approval from his chain of command to shoot the terrorist, who was killed in what became known as the Abbey Gate bombing during the military's chaotic withdrawal from the country.

"Plain and simple, we were ignored," Vargas-Andrews, whose leg and arm were amputated after the attack, said at the hearing.

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In a letter released Thursday afternoon, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., and Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, asked for a slew of documents related to the bombing.

"Battlefield decisions are often made in a cloud, but 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," Rogers and McCaul wrote in the letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley.

A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment to about the letter, saying in an email that "as with all congressional correspondence, we will reply directly to the authors of the letter."

McCaul has been leading an investigation into the withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 that saw the U.S. military rush to evacuate as many vulnerable Afghans as possible after the U.S.-backed government in Kabul fell to the Taliban.

In March, McCaul's committee held an emotional public hearing kicking off the investigation in which service members and veterans who helped with the evacuation recounted their experiences.

Citing the testimony, Rogers and McCaul requested the Pentagon provide all documents and communications about the Abbey Gate bombing by June 2, including any intelligence about the identity of the attacker; the rules of engagement in effect at the time of the bombing; any video or photographs from the day of the attack; and any messages or chats about threats to the Kabul airport.

The pair also asked for a detailed description of the response to Vargas-Andrews' request for engagement authority.

"Testimony during the hearing raises serious questions regarding the events leading up to the attack, which must be answered," the lawmakers wrote.

The military's investigation into the Abbey Gate bombing concluded it was not preventable, despite indications of threats to the airport beforehand. Vargas-Andrews testified at the hearing that he has never been interviewed as part of any Pentagon investigation into the withdrawal.

Rogers and McCaul also asked for documents related to the Pentagon's after-action review of the withdrawal. The Biden administration allowed lawmakers to see the classified review, but publicly has released only a White House summary that largely pins blame for the chaos of the withdrawal on the Trump administration. The lawmakers specifically asked the Pentagon to provide the footnotes from the after-action review, which they said were redacted in the version given to Congress, as well as transcripts of interviews done for the review.

The letter to the Pentagon comes after McCaul's standoff with the State Department over his Afghanistan withdrawal investigation eases, at least for now.

In March, McCaul issued a subpoena demanding the State Department hand over a document known as a dissent cable that was written by diplomats and reportedly warned Kabul would soon fall to the Taliban. McCaul was planning a vote next week to hold Secretary of State Antony Blinken in contempt of Congress as the department withheld the document over stated concerns that providing the cable would violate the confidentiality of the diplomats who sent it.

But on Wednesday, the department offered to let McCaul and Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., the ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, view the cable under supervision at the State Department with personal information about the senders redacted. McCaul accepted the offer Thursday and said he would postpone next week's contempt vote. But he added that he still wants other committee members to be able to see the cable and reserves the right to enforce the subpoena.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: 'We Were Ignored': Veterans and Troops Detail Horrors of Afghanistan Evacuation as House Investigation Begins

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