CENTCOM chief orders new interviews over Kabul airport bombing during withdrawal

The Pentagon’s Central Command, led by Gen. Erik Kurilla, has ordered interviews with approximately two dozen more service members who were present at the Kabul airport suicide bombing that occurred during the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in August 2021.

This move comes amid continued criticism suggesting that the deadly assault could have been prevented.

The decision to conduct these interviews was partially prompted by claims made by at least one injured service member who asserted that he had never been interviewed about the attack.

In a statement issued on Friday night, Michael Lawhorn, CENTCOM spokesperson, said the US Army completed its investigation into the August 26, 2021 bombing at Abbey Gate in November 2021.

The attack claimed the lives of 170 civilians from Afghanistan and 13 US service members.

There were a number of injured service members who were not interviewed at the time and one of these service members was Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews. Vargas-Andrews however has since publically testified before a congressional hearing.

“In early June 2023, the commander of U.S. Central Command, Gen. Michael Kurilla, formally directed Lt. Gen. Pat Frank, the current ARCENT (U.S. Army Central) commander, to conduct a review of public testimony to determine whether it contained any new information not previously considered in the ARCENT-led investigation of 2021.

“Frank completed his review in August. One of the witnesses, Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews, USMC, who was not interviewed as part of the earlier investigation, made statements about his experience that contained new information not previously shared by any other witness.

“Frank’s review also identified additional service members wounded during the Abbey Gate attack who were not interviewed, due to their immediate medical evacuation in the aftermath of their attack.

“As a result of the review, Gen. Kurilla has formally directed Lt. Gen. Frank to conduct interviews with these service members and other personnel, as necessary,” said Lawhorn.

During the congressional hearing in March, Vargas-Andrews told lawmakers that he was thwarted in an attempt to stop the suicide bombing. He said Marines and others aiding in the evacuation operation were given descriptions of men believed to be plotting an attack before it occurred.

He said he and others spotted two men matching the descriptions and behaving suspiciously, and eventually had them in their rifle scopes, but never received a response about whether to take action.

“No one was held accountable,” Vargas-Andrews told Michael McCaul, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “No one was, and no one is, to this day.”

Lawhorn meanwhile said the purpose of the Pentagon’s interviews is to ensure CENTCOM does its “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 clear.

“These interviews will seek to determine whether those not previously interviewed due to their immediate medical evacuation possess new information not previously considered, and whether such new information, if any, would affect the results of the investigation, and to ensure their personal accounts are captured for historical documentation,” he said.

Lawhorn stated the process of conducting interviews will begin in the coming days and that Kurilla has requested an update within 90 days.

The Pentagon stated the decision does not reopen the investigation into the deadly bombing or the withdrawal that took place two years ago. However, these additional interviews are likely to be seized upon by congressional critics, primarily from the Republican Party, who contend that the administration mishandled both the probe into the attack and the withdrawal itself.