July 13, 2024

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The suicide bombing killed 170 Afghans and 13 US service members during the messy US withdrawal in August 2021.

The United States military has announced it will conduct interviews with service members about the events leading up to a deadly suicide bombing near Kabul’s airport in August 2021, when the country was withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan.

On Friday, the Pentagon’s Central Command said that it would interview about two dozen people about the explosion that killed 170 Afghans and 13 US service members. But it emphasised it would not reopen its investigation into the bombing.

“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.

The bombing created widespread bloodshed during the final days of the US withdrawal, which marked the end of its long-running war in Afghanistan.

Crowds of Afghans had gathered at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul in an effort to leave the country, after the Taliban overthrew the US-backed government and captured the city.

But on the afternoon of August 26, 2021, as civilians thronged around the airport’s Abbey Gate, a suicide bomber is believed to have detonated a belt containing explosives.

The bombing — and the military’s response to it — has heightened criticism that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was chaotic and haphazard. Questions have also arisen about whether the US could have done more to prevent the bombing.

At least one former service member injured in the blast has previously stated that the military never interviewed him about the events of that day, and he expressed his belief that the bombing was preventable.

Others have pointed to the US’s botched response to the bombing: A US drone strike in Kabul, several days afterwards, also killed 10 innocent people, including seven children.

An investigation by US Central Command concluded in November 2021 that the airport attack “was not preventable at the tactical level without degrading the mission to maximise the number of evacuees”.

However, former Marine Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews told a Congressional hearing in March that members of the military had been given a description of a group of men planning on carrying out an attack but had received no response from above.

More than two years after the withdrawal, many Afghans seeking refuge from the Taliban remain in limbo, with few options for escape.

Afghans who assisted the US military may be eligible for Special Immigrant Visas in the US, but the system for processing applications has experienced severe backlogs. Critics also say too few immigration options exist for Afghans who worked with the US in other ways, a fact that could leave them in danger under Taliban rule.

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