The families of 13 US service members killed outside the Kabul airport during the military withdrawal from Afghanistan came together before Congress for the first time this week to demand answers about their deaths. loved ones, almost two years after that tragic day.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., held a congressional forum with Gold Star families on Monday, where for nearly 90 minutes Americans heard emotional testimony about how grieving families felt misled and betrayed by their own government.
Several called President Biden and his top Cabinet officials by name, calling on them to resign. A father of a fallen US Marine called on the president to “be a grown man.”
A Defense Department official said of Monday’s testimony, “The Department of Defense expresses our deepest condolences to the Gold Star Families who lost loved ones during the tragic Abbey Gate bombing. We are eternally grateful for their service, sacrifice, and commitment. efforts during evacuation operations. We also commend the historic and monumental efforts of all our service men and women who served with honor during the evacuation out of Afghanistan.”
But some family members criticized the Biden administration and some even accused officials of lying about the circumstances of their loved one’s death.
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‘We were told a lie’
Kelly Barnett, mother of Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, spoke first on the panel and spoke for about 15 minutes, describing his pride in his hero son, a Marine, who wanted to join the Corps since age 6.
Barnett broke down when describing his son’s fifth and final deployment to Afghanistan in 2021. He said they were made to “clean up the airport” on the way out, so as not to “leave it dirty for the Taliban.”
She also accused Biden officials of lying to her about her son’s death – telling her he died instantly only for eyewitnesses to tell her he “lived for a while.”
“We were told lies, given incomplete reports, incorrect reports, total disrespect,” Barnett said. “I was told to my face he died on impact. That’s not true. The only reason that I know this is because witnesses told me the truth. I was lied to and basically told to shut up.”
‘There is no illusion that anyone will be prosecuted’
Another Gold Star mother searching for answers in the death of her son, Cpl. Hunter Lopez, he said he was not surprised how difficult it was for him to get to the bottom of what happened.
“Our system can quickly identify perpetrators in distant countries but we are challenged to check ourselves,” he said.
“I have no illusions that anyone will be prosecuted or fired for ignoring intelligence or making bad decisions, even for lying to all of our Gold Star families,” Alicia Lopez said. “This outcome is unfortunate, but it is what we should expect from a system that would rather keep secrets for decades and more until finally someone has decent information that will bring comfort to grieving families.”
Lopez added, “My request is that those mistakes be owned, that my family and the other Gold Star families here … that we find out who is responsible. We don’t want a partial truth or a truth told in a book release or when the information is declassified 20, 30 or 40 years from now.”
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said Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui’s father, Steve Nikoui, accused Biden of using his Marine son “as a pawn so we can meet his September 11 deadline and get the optics he wants” regarding the US withdrawal from Afghanistan two years ago.
“My life and that of my family has been on pause since the early hours of August 26, 2021,” the emotional father said. “The difference between the minutes of my life before that and the minutes that passed after that day was very different.”
Closing his remarks, Steve Nikoui told an anecdote of a game he and Kareem shared when he was going back to his base.
“I will be [at] the other end of the house was far away, and I would wait to hear the door creak on its hinges, the front door. And as soon as I heard that, I would scream his name, Kareem, as loud as I could. And this is to pay homage to every father-son film ever made. … I want to say, ‘Avenge me!’ And, you know, and I’ll go and look at him, and he’ll have the biggest smile,” Nikou said.
“And now all I hear is him in his soft voice, ‘Avenge me.'”
‘I started shaking’
Gold Star mother Cheryl Rex described having a visceral reaction to President Biden’s comments on her son’s death during the transition ceremony when she received the body of her son, Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola.
“Me and the other families of our 13, we are waiting for [plane’s] arriving in the United States when Joe Biden, our president-elect, entered the room. When he came to me, what he said to me was, ‘My wife, Jill, and I know how you feel. We also lost our son and brought him home in a coffin with a flag.’ My heart is beating faster,” said Rex.
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“I started shaking, knowing that their son had died of cancer, and they were by his side,” she said.
Rex said he began to “wonder how someone could honestly, I’m sorry, it’s so heartless to say he knew how I felt more than 24 hours after learning of my son’s death.”
“After this encounter, I have not had any personal correspondence or my son has been honored or his name mentioned by the commander in chief or his administration,” he said.
‘A knife to the heart’
“I can’t even begin to put the words together to convey to you the devastation his murder has caused our family,” Christy Shamblin, the mother-in-law of Marine Sgt. Nicole Gee, told officials at the forum.
“When your child is killed, you feel there is no justice, and you question your existence,” he said.
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Shamblin had to stop at one point during her testimony because she was overcome with emotion. Her tearful declaration that her daughter is a “bada– Marine” drew heartening applause.
But among his most emotional remarks came a reaction to Biden officials hailing the departure as a victory.
“When our leaders, including the secretary of defense and our commander in chief, called this evacuation a success, as if there should be a celebration, it was like a knife in the heart for our families and for people. [who] come back,” said Shamblin. “I’m alive [every] a day knowing that these deaths are preventable. My son could be with us now.”