Leaders in the federal government marked the one-year anniversary Friday of the bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members at Afghanistan's Hamid Karzai International Airport in the last days of the war with messages of commemoration as well some political criticism.
In a released statement, President Joe Biden called the "13 precious souls, stolen from their families, loved ones, brothers" heroes who were "working to save lives as part of the largest airlift evacuation operation in our history."
"The example of their bravery and selflessness will live forever as a testament to the very best of our American character," he added.
Both the secretaries of defense and state also released messages remembering the loss of the 11 Marines, one sailor and one soldier.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged that "today's tragic milestone is agonizing for the families and loved ones of those we lost at Abbey Gate." But he also said he hopes "that every American will pause in solemn remembrance of the valorous service of their fellow Americans -- the brave volunteers in uniform and their families, who sacrificed so much to protect the United States from terrorism."
"We could not do our jobs without our Marine counterparts, and we are grateful every single day that they serve alongside our diplomats," Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in his statement.
On Aug. 26, 2021, the military was busy coordinating the evacuation of civilians and American personnel at the airport outside the capital city of Kabul when a blast by the airport's Abbey Gate shattered an already busy and chaotic scene. Initial reports were that a handful of Marines were killed, but military officials quickly confirmed that many U.S. service members were among the victims.
The Islamic State affiliate ISIS-Khorasan, or ISIS-K, took credit for the attack.
A later investigation found that a single suicide bomber, using an explosive device packed with ball bearings, was responsible for the carnage. The bomb killed at least 170 Afghan civilians in addition to the 13 U.S. service members.
"The disturbing lethality of this device was confirmed by the 58 U.S. service members who were killed and wounded despite the universal wear of body armor and helmets that did stop ball bearings that impacted them but could not prevent catastrophic injuries to areas not covered,"
U.S. Central Command chief Gen. Frank McKenzie said at a press briefing in February.
The Marine Corps, which lost the greatest number of service members, said the fallen "gave their lives so that others may be free of oppression under a brutal regime" in an "act of supreme devotion," in a powerful statement released Friday.
"In the midst of chaos and bloodshed, they deployed to Hamid Karzai International Airport and acted with the courage, selflessness, and professionalism indelibly ascribed to the term 'Marine,'" the service said.
In addition to members of the Biden administration, lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle released statements of commemoration as well. While most focused on remembering the lives lost that day, Republicans also had criticism for how the withdrawal was handled.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., tweeted that "we have a responsibility to ensure there is accountability for the terrible decisions that led to their deaths," while Michael McCaul, R-Texas, tweeted that Biden "was determined to unconditionally withdraw come hell or highwater, no matter the consequences."
Mike Rogers, R- Ala., the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said that "we still lack answers from the Biden administration on why military advice was ignored, why the withdrawal was based on a date and not the reality on the ground, and why no one has been held accountable for the security failures that led to the bombing one year ago," in a released statement.
The names of the service members who died are Marine Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover; Sgt. Johanny Rosario; Sgt. Nicole L. Gee; Cpl. Hunter Lopez; Cpl. Daegan W. Page; Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez; Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza; Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz; Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum; Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola; Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui; Navy Hospitalman 3rd Class Maxton W. Soviak; and Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss.
They were all posthumously awarded the Purple Heart, and the Navy posthumously promoted Soviak to the rank of hospital corpsman third class and awarded him the Fleet Marine Force Corpsman warfare badge.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.