Senate Approves Congressional Gold Medals for Troops Killed in Kabul Airport Attack

Sgt. Nicole Gee full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery
The U.S. Army Honor Guard paid final tribute to Sgt. Nicole Gee during a full honors funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va., Sept. 29, 2021. Sgt. Gee was one of 13 service members killed during the non-combatant evacuation operations at the Hamid Karzai Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Akeel Austin/U.S. Marine Corps)

The 13 U.S. service members killed in a suicide bombing in Kabul in August are on track to receive Congress' highest honor after the Senate unanimously approved posthumously awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal.

The Senate vote Wednesday night comes after the House approved the medals last month and sends the bill to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature.

“Today, the United States Senate moved to recognize the courage, sacrifice and service of the 13 brave young men and women who were killed in Afghanistan,” Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said in a press release. “During a pivotal point for our nation, they gave the last full measure for our freedoms. I look forward to the president honoring these American heroes and swiftly signing this bill into law.”

Daines introduced the bill in the upper chamber with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. It has 67 co-sponsors.

The service members, who would be the last U.S. fatalities in America’s longest war, were killed in an Aug. 26 suicide bombing outside Hamid Karzai Internetional Airport in Kabul.

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Critics of the evacuation effort have pointed to the attack, as well as images of desperate Afghans clinging to the side of a U.S. transport plane and the fact that hundreds of U.S. citizens and thousands of eligible Afghans were left behind, as evidence the withdrawal was poorly planned, even as the Biden administration has touted its efforts as a success with 124,000 people evacuated.

The bombing, for which the Afghan branch of ISIS later claimed responsibility, happened while the U.S. military scrambled to evacuate as many civilians as possible before the military fully withdrew from Afghanistan on Aug. 31.

Throngs of Afghans desperate to flee the newly reinstated Taliban rule had crowded outside the airport, and an estimated 170 Afghans were killed in the suicide blast in addition to the 11 Marines, one Navy corpsman and one soldier killed.

The Pentagon identified the service members killed as Navy Corpsman Maxton Soviak, 22; Army Staff Sgt. Ryan Knauss, 23; and Marines Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, 20; Lance Cpl. David Espinoza, 20; Lance Cpl. Rylee McCollum, 20; Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, 20; Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22; Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, 31; Cpl. Daegan William-Tyeler Page, 23; Sgt. Nicole Gee, 23; Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, 22; Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola, 20; and Sgt. Johanny Rosario Pichardo, 25.

The bill awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal applauds them for having gone “above and beyond the call of duty to protect citizens of the United States and our allies to ensure they are brought to safety in an extremely dangerous situation as the Taliban regained control over Afghanistan.”

The Congressional Gold Medal is considered one of the highest civilian awards in the United States. A practice dating back to the American Revolution, the medal has been awarded to 173 individuals and groups as of August.

“The American service members exemplified extreme bravery and valor against armed enemy combatants,” the bill says. “The American service members dedicated their lives and their heroism deserves great honor.”

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: House Votes to Award Congressional Gold Medal to Troops Killed in Kabul Airport Blast

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