President Joe Biden on Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the Afghanistan terrorist attack that killed 13 U.S. servicemembers, vowing to “continue to hunt down terrorists who seek to harm the United States” even without an American military presence in country anymore.
But Republican lawmakers said the somber anniversary should serve as a call for more accountability for mistakes made in the 2021 drawdown, which ultimately led to the troops’ deaths.
The U.S. personnel and more than 100 Afghan civilians were killed on Aug. 26, 2021, when a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb at the Abbey Gate of the Kabul International Airport, the site of a massive, weekslong evacuation operation ahead of the U.S. withdrawal.
The 13 service members killed in the attack were:
• Marine Corps Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, California.
• Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga, California.
• Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Massachusetts.
• Navy Corpsman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio.
• Marine Corps Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas.
• Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyoming.
• Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Missouri.
• Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui, 20, of Norco, California.
• Marine Corps Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio, California.
• Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah.
• Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss, 23, of Corryton, Tennessee.
• Marine Corps Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Nebraska.
• Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Indiana.
“They were heroes, working to save lives as part of the largest airlift evacuation operation in our history,” Biden said in a statement released Friday. “The example of their bravery and selflessness will live forever as a testament to the very best of our American character.
“Today, I am praying for the families of those 13 fallen warriors, who lost a piece of their soul one year ago. Our nation can never repay such incredible sacrifice — but we will never fail to honor our sacred obligation to the families and survivors they left behind.”
The White House also noted the 2,461 American troops killed in the nearly 20-year conflict in Afghanistan and the 20,744 wounded in service there.
“It is a painful reminder that there is nothing low-cost or low-grade about war for those we ask to fight for us,” Biden said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III in a separate statement asked for Americans to reflect upon the service and sacrifice of all military members, especially those 13 killed.
“The heroes we lost that day gave their lives to defend their teammates and to help save the lives of tens of thousands of innocent Afghan people who sought freedom and the opportunity for a better life,” he said.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, similarly praised the heroism of the service members but also criticized Biden’s administration for presenting them with a “near-impossible mission” to evacuate Afghanistan one year ago.
“Beyond just words, we have a responsibility to ensure there is accountability for the terrible decisions that led to their deaths,” he said. “I remain committed to continuing to work with my colleagues to ensure we achieve full transparency in the fatal flaws that were carried out by the president and his national security team.”
House Armed Services Committee ranking member Mike Rogers, R-Alabama, has said that he plans to hold additional hearings on the Aug. 26, 2021, attack and the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan if Republicans take control of the House after the November midterm elections.
“We still lack answers from the Biden administration on why military advice was ignored, why the withdrawal was based on a date and not the reality on the ground, and why no one has been held accountable for the security failures that led to the bombing one year ago,” he said.
Outside advocates have warned that the anniversary and lingering tension over the withdrawal could cause stress and anxiety in troops, veterans and their families.
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line by dialing 988 or 1-800-273-8255 and selecting option 1 for a Veterans Affairs staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.