In the lead-up to the tragic suicide bombing at Kabul airport in 2021 that claimed the lives of 13 service personnel, U.S. military commanders had knowledge of the threat and missed two opportunities to neutralize the terrorist network behind the plot, as outlined in a newly published book.
Amid the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, the request to target a hotel recognized as a staging point for ISIS-K, the group behind the attack, was denied. Simultaneously, a plan for a drone strike elsewhere was vetoed due to concerns about the Taliban’s adverse reaction.
These revelations underscore a startling conclusion: President Joe Biden’s presidency experienced its bloodiest moment due to the dependence on the enemy for security during the evacuation’s final days.
The devastating incident claimed the lives of 183 people, including the bomber. These details are unveiled in ‘Kabul: The Untold Story of Biden’s Fiasco and the American Warriors Who Fought to the End,’ published by Center Street on Tuesday. The book delves into the disarray that marked the effort to withdraw American troops from a two-decade-long war, highlighting the swift fall of Kabul to Taliban control.
As Taliban gunmen surged through the nation, capturing Kabul within weeks, Hamid Karzai International Airport became a focal point for tens of thousands seeking to escape the new rule. With the Taliban’s authority over Kabul, a pact was established, relying on the very adversary to ensure airport security.
This arrangement ended in tragedy when an ISIS-K suicide bomber struck on August 28, detonating a lethal payload at Abbey Gate, where U.S. Marines managed the crowd.
Authors Jerry Dunleavy and James Hasson uncovered critical insights through interviews and available information, including the Central Command report on the bombing. The report, obtained through a freedom of information request, revealed intelligence warnings days before the attack.
The report includes a redacted officer’s statement about intelligence sharing prior to the attack, wherein it was stated that the intelligence community was aware of the impending attack and its likely target. The gate was anticipated to be Abbey Gate due to the significant crowd gathered there.
The British government and others advocated to keep Abbey Gate open, despite its intended closure, leading to heightened security measures in anticipation of an attack.
Notably, the report highlights collaboration with the Taliban on security and intelligence sharing. An officer cited the use of Chat Surfer to disseminate threat information and revealed that intelligence officers identified ISIS-K’s presence at a nearby hotel. The Taliban’s refusal to assault the hotel was a missed opportunity.
General Chris Donahue, identified as ‘D2’ in documents, played a crucial role. He led the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division during the evacuation and became the last American service member to leave Afghanistan.
Another missed chance emerged from a botched drone strike conducted in response to the suicide attack. The investigation into the drone strike revealed additional intelligence indicating an imminent ISIS-K attack, but plans for a strike were vetoed due to anticipated backlash from the Taliban.
The authors emphasized that the Abbey Gate attack could have been averted if stronger measures had been taken to protect troops. Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews’s testimony also supported this claim. He had identified a potential suicide bomber but his warning was disregarded.
The tragic event marked one of the deadliest days for U.S. forces and Afghans alike. The book underscores the series of errors that exacerbated risks for troops, leading to decisions influenced by the encircling Taliban and the loss of 13 American lives.