U.S. CENTCOM Concludes 2021 Kabul Airport Bombing Was ‘Not Preventable’

President Joe Biden watches as a carry team moves the transfer case containing the remains
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

A review of the suicide bombing that killed 13 American service members at Afghanistan’s Kabul International Airport during the U.S.’s 2021 botched military withdrawal has concluded that the sniper team guarding Abbey Gate did not have the terrorist in its sights before the attack.

The initial U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) investigation into the August 26, 2021, bombing, which also took the lives of 170 Afghan civilians, found that the attack was “not preventable” at a tactical level. The latest supplemental report, which included interviews with 50 additional eyewitnesses, sought to determine the following:

1) whether an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) test run occurred near Abbey Gate on August 21, 2021;

2) whether, before the attack occurred, service members identified in the crowd the suicide bomber who committed the attack; and

3) whether service members posted at or around Abbey Gate had an opportunity to engage the bomber prior to the attack. 

“The review also focused on the Taliban’s use of excessive force and the decision to consolidate the defensive perimeter around Abbey Gate before the attack,” CENTCOM noted.

Investigators also interviewed 12 service members who were previously unavailable to provide statements due to medical evacuation or treatment. 

After a “thorough review,” the federal command agency confirmed that the Abbey Gate terrorist attack “was not preventable at the tactical level without degrading the mission to maximize the number of evacuees”:

  • Leaders at Abbey Gate were present, engaged, and made sound tactical decisions.
  • The suicide bomber was not previously identified in the crowd, nor was there an opportunity for service members to engage him prior to the attack on August 26, 2021.
  • Though unable to be ruled out completely, it is unlikely that an IED test run occurred outside Abbey Gate on August 21, 2021.
  • Taliban forces outside Abbey Gate used excessive force that resulted in civilian deaths.
  • The new information obtained during the review did not materially impact the findings in the November 2021 Abbey Gate 15-6 investigation and the supplemental review team did not recommend any modifications to those findings.

The supplemental review consisted of a team of 13 service members traveling to 24 locations and conducting more than 50 interviews in five months, concluding on January 16.

Senior departmental leadership was informed of the review’s findings in February. CENTCOM is still “in the process” of briefing Gold Star Families of the 13 U.S. military casualties.

“Our focus continues to be on fulfilling our solemn obligations to the Abbey Gate Gold Star Families,” a CENTCOM spokesperson said.

During President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address in March, Gold Star dad Steve Nikoui, father of U.S. Marines Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, was arrested for interrupting the speech on behalf of his fallen son. 

Nikoui, whose son was one of the servicemen killed at Kabul’s airport, was escorted out of the event after shouting, “United States Marines!” and “Abbey Gate!”

Washington, D.C., Attorney General Brian Schwalb’s office later dropped the charges against him.


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