Families of service members killed in 2021 Kabul airport attack demand accountability from Biden

WASHINGTON — Gold Star families of the American service members killed in 2021 at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan denounced President Joe Biden and his administration over a lack of answers over the U.S. withdrawal and what exactly unfolded during the attack.

In testimony at a roundtable hosted by the House Foreign Affairs Committee, parents of the fallen service members described their children and what their sons and daughters experienced when they aided the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan and expressed anger with the administration over its response to failures that occurred.

Image: President Joe Biden pauses while giving remarks after 13 American servicemen were killed in attacks near the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26, 2021. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images file)

Image: President Joe Biden pauses while giving remarks after 13 American servicemen were killed in attacks near the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26, 2021. (Drew Angerer / Getty Images file)

“We’ve been lied to about what happened that day, as well as what happened to our children. We’ve been lied to about our relationship with the Taliban, which, by the way, have done more to take out the leaders of this attack than our own leadership has,” said Greg Page, the father of Marine Cpl. Daegan W. Page.

Marine Cpl. Daegan W. Page. (via KTIV)

Marine Cpl. Daegan W. Page. (via KTIV)

Daegan Page was among 13 U.S. service members killed in an attack by the Islamic State terrorist group outside Kabul’s airport at Abbey Gate on Aug. 26, 2021. They were helping people evacuate from the country when the attack happened. The Defence Department concluded that “a single explosive device killed at least 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. service members by explosively directing ball bearings through a packed crowd.”

The GOP-led Foreign Affairs Committee has made it a priority since Republicans took the House majority in January to investigate the attack and the overall exit from Afghanistan.

The stepmother of Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, who also died in the attack, listed the names of the 13 and said they are “not just casualties of war.”

“They are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, that were pawns in some agenda, and we deserve some information and collaboration from all political parties,” Jaclyn Schmitz said at Tuesday’s roundtable.

His father, Mark Schmitz, said in his statement, “I identify as a father, a husband, a pissed-off, fed-up American patriot and now, thanks to this administration, a Gold Star dad — a title no one ever wants to have.”

He said he spoke to his son from Afghanistan, saying “he said he thought he was going to die there” after he experienced several days of chaos. “He said, ‘Dad, the look on these people’s faces was that of human desperation, and there’s no way we can save them all.’

Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz. (Facebook)

Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz. (Facebook)

“The next day the explosion happened. The next day,” Mark Schmitz paused, choking up, “My son was gone forever. Fortunately, I was able to tell him I love you one last time.

“Two years has gone by and where are we?” he continued. “To be frank. We’re knee-deep in bulls—.”

Several family members specifically criticized Biden for his response and demanded accountability and an apology. The father of Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, Steve Nikoui, said their children should be honored at the White House at a Rose Garden event. The father of Marine Cpl. Hunter Lopez called on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to release a complete investigation of the Afghanistan withdrawal and asked for a “complete account of the actions and inactions leading up to this attack on Aug. 26, 2021.”

Asked for comment, the White House on Tuesday pointed to Biden’s marking the second anniversary in a statement Saturday, in which he said: “Today, Jill and I remember and mourn these 13 brave American service members and the more than 100 innocent Afghan civilians who were killed in the horrific terrorist attack at Abbey Gate. Many more were injured and will carry the impacts of their wounds and the horrors of that day for the rest of their lives.”

In the last two years, the Biden administration has completed multiple investigations into the withdrawal and the attack at Kabul’s airport, conducted by the Pentagon, the State Department and the White House.

At the Pentagon briefing Tuesday, deputy press secretary Sabrina Singh highlighted the report released in February 2022 about the U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, investigation into the attack. “CENTCOM conducted a very comprehensive, credible and definitive investigation into the Abbey gate bombing following the attack,” Singh said. “U.S. military commanders on the ground in Afghanistan … made decisions that they could with the information that they had at the time.”

Speaking to reporters about the probe, Army Brig. Gen. Lance Curtis, who led it, said officials determined that the attack couldn’t have been stopped.

“Based on our investigation at the tactical level, this was not preventable, and the leaders on the ground followed the proper measures, and any time there was an imminent threat warning they followed the proper procedures: They lowered their profile, they sought cover, and, at times, they even ceased operations at the gate,” Curtis said.

Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, who oversaw the withdrawal as head of U.S. Central Command, said at the time that the findings were based on evidence collected, the testimony of more than 100 people and analysis of experts. He said, “The conclusions of the team, based upon evidence, gives a compelling and truthful examination of the event.”

Asked for comment, a State Department spokesperson said Tuesday that the administration will continue to support Gold Star families and defended Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan, saying he “made the tough decision to end the 20-year war in Afghanistan because he was not going to send another generation of troops to fight and die in a conflict that had no end in sight.”

In April, a report from the White House’s National Security Council summarized the administration’s assessment of the withdrawal and largely blamed former President Donald Trump’s administration for the chaos that unfolded as U.S. troops were leaving and as Americans and Afghans evacuated from the country.

Biden and his team were “well aware of the challenges posed by withdrawing from a warzone” after 20 years, the White House said, and while the Trump administration left a target date to leave Afghanistan, it provided “no plan for executing it.”

The Defense and State departments have since said they are reviewing recommendations made from the administration’s investigations and taking steps to implement them to prevent similar failures.

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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