The Pentagon’s Central Command has ordered interviews of roughly two dozen more service members who were at the Kabul airport when suicide bombers attacked during US forces’ chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal, as criticism persists that the deadly assault could have been stopped.
The interviews, ordered by Gen. Erik Kurilla, head of US Central Command, were triggered in part by assertions by at least one service member injured in the blast who said he was never interviewed about it and that he might have been able to stop the attackers.
The interviews are meant to see if service members who were not included in the original investigation have new or different information.
The decision, according to officials, does not reopen the administration’s investigation into the deadly bombing and the withdrawal two years ago. But the additional interviews will likely be seized on by congressional critics, mostly Republican, as proof that the administration bungled the probe into the attack, in addition to mishandling the withdrawal.
Some families of those killed and injured have complained that the Pentagon hasn’t been transparent enough about the bombing that killed 170 Afghans and 13 US servicemen and women.
US Central Command’s investigation concluded in November 2021 that given the worsening security situation at the airport’s Abbey Gate as Afghans became increasingly desperate to flee, “the attack was not preventable at the tactical level without degrading the mission to maximize the number of evacuees.” And, the Pentagon has said that the review of the suicide attack had turned up neither any advance identification of a possible attacker nor any requests for “an escalation to existing rules of engagement” governing use of force by U.S. troops.
Central Command plans to speak with a number of service members who were severely wounded in the bombing at the Abbey Gate and had to be quickly evacuated from the country for medical care. They represent the bulk of the planned interviews, but a few others who weren’t wounded are also included. Officials also did not rule out that the number of interviews could grow as a result of those initial conversations.
“The purpose of these interviews is to ensure we do our due diligence with the new information that has come to light, that the relevant voices are fully heard and that we take those accounts and examine them seriously and thoroughly so the facts are laid bare,” Central Command spokesperson Michael Lawhorn said in a statement.
Meanwhile, some Afghan political analysts said that the investigation of the incident is important.
“It has been two years or even beyond that now. The documents and evidence have been eliminated. The investigation is not harmful ...,” said Mohammad Zalmai Afghanyar, a political analyst.
“They have turned the issue of US withdrawal from Afghanistan into a headache for Joe Biden. So, if there is any evidence against Joe Biden. There have been thousands of such incidents but none of them have been investigated,” said Asadullah Nadim, a political analyst.
At least 170 Afghans and 13 American service members were killed in the Abbey Gate attack on August 26 at the Kabul-Hamid Karzai International Airport.