The families of 13 American service members killed during Joe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan two years ago inserted themselves back into the country’s conscience last week.
“Not a single person has been held accountable,” said Mark Schmitz, the father of Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, one of the 13 heroes killed in a terrorist bomb blast on Aug. 26, 2021, during the chaotic military evacuation of Kabul airport. “Our so-called leader can’t seem to even utter their names in public, not even once.”
The Gold Star families’ unanswered reproach of the president finally found voice when they testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week, almost exactly two years after the debacle.
They told their stories eloquently, with dignity, anger and still-raw pain.
A wrong has been done, no one has been held to account and no lessons have been learned.
Their pain has been compounded by the memory-holing of that day.
Their tragedy has been suppressed, their inconvenient grief largely ignored by the media, their stories buried by Google search and the breezy Wikipedia entry on the Afghanistan withdrawal which barely mentions the 13 fallen.
The president has never uttered the names of their loved ones, and after enough time had passed, proceeded to boast about his success.
A new book aims to remedy all that: “Kabul, The Untold Story of Biden’s Fiasco and the American Warriors Who Fought to the End,” by former Army Capt. James Hasson and Washington Examiner reporter Jerry Dunleavy, is a forensic examination of the mistakes that led to the Abbey Gate attack, advice ignored, cowardice and incompetence at the highest levels and a president’s stubborn insistence that he knew best.
It is hard not to read it without feeling anger, but also respect for the extraordinary courage and competence of members of the US military that day at Abbey Gate at Kabul Airport.
“Biden did not receive a single military recommendation or intelligence assessment telling him that a full US withdrawal would be anything but a disaster,” the authors say.
The president was advised to keep a small contingent of 2,500 troops to ensure stability and to keep Bagram Air Base open, but he rejected the advice.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley “testified that the military had created options for keeping Bagram open, but Biden had rejected them.”
Biden and his close advisers were in denial about the untrustworthiness of their Taliban partners.
They were heedless to warnings that Kabul was being surrounded until the bitter end when they gave the urgent order to evacuate Bagram in the middle of the night, leaving behind what CNN reported was $7 billion of military equipment.
When bodies of desperate Afghans started falling midair from planes they had clung onto, the optics panicked the president who then started micromanaging the evacuation, the authors say, changing the mission midstream, from just getting the troops out to mission impossible, evacuating basically anyone who showed up to the airport.
The ensuing chaos put our troops needlessly in danger and caused enormous suffering to Afghans who died of heatstroke or whose children were trampled in the crush of bodies trying to get on the last US planes.
‘We were ignored’
Hours before the attack, there were specific warnings from the CIA of an ISIS suicide bomber who would be targeting Abbey Gate on Aug. 26, with an accurate description of the man.
A sniper team in a tower at Abbey Gate was providing overwatch while their fellow Marines pulled Americans and Afghan allies to safety.
The sniper, Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, “spotted a suspicious individual whose appearance matched the description of the bomber nearly verbatim. [He] requested permission to engage the suspect several times, but his requests were not granted.”
“Eventually the individual disappeared . . . To this day, we believe he was the suicide bomber,” Vargas-Andrews said. “Plain and simple, we were ignored.”
The ISIS suicide bomber, Abdul Rahman al-Logari, “stood directly across from the assembled Marines, and detonated a twenty-pound vest packed with hundreds of 5-millimeter ball bearings,” Hasson and Dunleavy say in their book.
And who was al-Logari? He was a prisoner who had been released from a jail at Bagram when the Taliban took over.
“The Biden administration has pointedly refused to say Abdul Rahman al-Logari’s name because of this embarrassing reality,” the authors state.
Biden’s incompetence is widely known — Robert Gates, a respected defense secretary who served in the Obama administration, once famously said, “I think he has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Or as Biden’s former boss, Barack Obama, reportedly warned his party before it chose Biden as its 2020 presidential nominee: “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f—k things up.”
But until the debacle in Kabul, Biden’s callous indifference to the suffering of other people was less well known.
His entire political career revolved around his supposed endless pool of empathy due to the tragedies in his own life.
‘Disgrace to nation’
But when it came to his inexplicable, ego-driven decisions leading up to the Kabul disaster, and his reaction to the tragedy as it unfolded, he demonstrated a remarkable absence of empathy.
When Biden met with the families during the dignified transfer of the bodies of their fallen loved ones at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, they were struck by his mawkish insistence on talking about his own son, Beau Biden, who had not died on active duty but of brain cancer six years after he came home from a yearlong deployment to Iraq.
Biden compounded his insensitivity by glancing at his watch multiple times as he stood on the tarmac during the ceremony.
For two years, Schmitz’s anger has simmered, and last week he directed it at Biden.
“You are a disgrace to this nation,” Schmitz said. “You have no business having ultimate command over our military, and I regret not saying that to your face when I had the opportunity in Dover. I felt it more important to bite my tongue, but I also had more important things on my mind at that time, like receiving my son’s lifeless body stateside.
“Well, as you can probably tell by now, I’m done biting my tongue. You, sir, stole their lives, their futures, their dreams and have ripped apart 13 families. You cannot even man up and admit that.”