One suicide bomber was behind Kabul airport attack that killed 13 US troops
The deadly Aug. 26 bombing outside the Kabul airport that killed 13 U.S. service members was carried out by a single bomber and was not a “complex” attack as U.S. officials first thought, according to a Pentagon investigation into the blast.
Officials found the bomber detonated an explosive containing ball bearings, killing at least 170 Afghan civilians in addition to the service members, as they approached the Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport, U.S. Central Command head Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth McKenzie told reporters Friday.
McKenzie acknowledged the findings were different from what officials initially believed, which was that the attack used two bombs and gunmen.
“At the time, the best information we had in the immediate aftermath of the attack indicated that it was a complex attack by both a suicide bomber and ISIS-K gunman,” McKenzie said. “We now know that the explosively fired ball bearings cause wounds that look like gunshots and when combined with a small number of warning shots, that led many to assume that a complex attack had occurred.”
He added: “the battlefield is a confusing and contradictory place and it gets more confusing the closer you are to the actual action.”
Eleven Marines, one Army soldier and one Navy sailor were killed in the blast that was claimed by ISIS in Khorasan and took place in the final, chaotic days of the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan
Investigators pieced together the events of the day after interviewing more than 100 American and British witnesses, scrutinizing the findings and analysis of medical examiners and explosive experts, and reviewing all available video evidence which included a drone that began observing the scene roughly three minutes after the attack, McKenzie said.
At their conclusion, investigators found the bombing was “not preventable,” according Army Brig. Gen. Lance Curtis, who took part in the investigation and briefed reporters after McKenzie’s remarks.
“Based upon our investigation at the tactical level, this was not preventable. And the leaders on the ground followed the proper measures,” Curtis said.
Investigators told reporters it was “highly likely” the bomber was able to reach Abbey Gate by using an alternate route and was not stopped because they bypassed Taliban checkpoints.
Afghans trying to flee the country were increasingly using such alternate routes in the final days of the evacuation as the Taliban would turn away or beat civilians trying to make it past their checkpoints.
As the U.S. military’s Aug. 31 deadline approached and people became more desperate to leave, Abbey Gate became significantly more crowded. The issue was exacerbated by other gates being closed, investigators said.
The briefing included partial video footage of the bomber, which showed the individual in the background before a flash of light.
Investigators also showed footage from the drone pilot, which caught on camera Marines running toward the gate from inside the airport and carrying dead and wounded service members from the blast area.
The report exonerates service members who were initially suspected of firing deadly shots into the crowd after the attack. Investigators found that Marines had instead only fired warning shots to disperse the crowd.
“The investigation found no definitive proof that anyone was ever hit or killed by gunfire, either U.S. or Afghan,” McKenzie said.
One investigator said several factors contributed to the initial belief that the attack was complex, including “the fog of war and disorientation due to blast effects,” and the warning shots which created an “echo effect.”
In addition, service members had been carrying tear gas in canisters which were punctured by the ball bearings in the blast, releasing the chemical into the air.
“Plainly put, the blast created instant chaos and sensory overload,” they said.
The report also found that military leaders on the ground took appropriate force protection measures throughout the operation and the medical services that were available “saved every life they possibly could through heroic efforts.” McKenzie said.
“This was a terrible attack that resulted in tragic outcomes and a horrific loss of life, both Afghan and American,” he added.
The FBI is conducting a separate investigation into the identity of the suicide bomber.
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