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Washington, D.C. – Today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul questioned hearing witnesses to recount their experiences during the disastrous evacuation from Afghanistan and examine the Biden administration’s stunning failure of leadership. 

“And then you said we made everyone aware on the ground, operations had halted, started again plain and simple – ‘we were ignored. Our expertise was disregarded and then lastly, no one was accountable for our safety that day,'” said Chairman McCaul.
“That is correct, chairman,” replied Sgt. Vargas-Andrews.
“No one was held accountable?” asked McCaul.
No one was and no one to this day,” said Sgt. Vargas-Andrews. 


-Questions and Answers as Delivered-

Chairman McCaul: It’s hard to even know where to start but I want to turn to you Mr. Sgt. Vargas Andrews. You described the scene as chaotic, that the State Department was not prepared, that we completely shut down processing every evening and into the morning – leaving you and your colleagues with a “nightmare” you called it. Could you describe that?

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: Yes, I can Chairman. So for us, obviously, ground forces at Abbey Gate, and it was like this at other gates as well, but at Abbey, you know, helping process between ya know, seven of us and our sniper team, we would go down and if we weren’t on the gun or catching a few winks, we would be down processing nationals and civilians and ya know, talking with everyone down there. And from us, we would pass from our chain of command, you know, throughout the evening to halt processing Afghans, to stop searching them. We kinda had to keep control of the crowd that was left over in the evening throughout, I would say sundown to sun up. There was no plan in place throughout the evening and the State Department would not take Afghans that we processed or searched, so eventually we just stopped throughout the evening. 

Chairman McCaul: I think you’re correct, there was no plan. The plan was to leave the Taliban in charge of this evacuation, which led to the chaos and the bloodshed that ensued after that. I want to focus on specifically what you saw on August 26. I know be on the lookout and an intelligence bulletin went out, identifying two individuals as a potential IED threat at the Abbey Gate. 

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: Yes, that is correct. Routinely we send two or three guys back to collect intel from our intel assets over in the joint operations command. That morning, around 2:00am we were passed that a suicide bomber was in the vicinity and in the surrounding neighborhoods, potentially moving towards the gate. We were told that he was wearing a brown man dress, a black vest, he would look clean-shaven and would be younger, with an older man traveling as his companion. And we saw just that on the 26th around 12:30pm in the afternoon. 

Chairman McCaul: And in fact, you said you passed along the communications network that there was a potential threat, an IED attack imminent, and your words, this was as serious as it gets. 

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: That is correct. We had eyes on these two individuals that fit this exact description we were given from our intel assets and we had pictures, we had them clear as day to be able to see through our scope with ease of fire on both individuals, as well as through our spotting scope. We have high-powered optics with quality lenses on our cameras to take clear-cut pictures of everything we see – that’s an enormous part of our job.

Chairman McCaul: Do you still have these photos? 

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: They were taken on an SD card when we turned them over to intelligence.

Chairman McCaul: Then you said you requested from your commander… to come to the tower and see what you saw. And the psychological operations came to the tower and confirmed that the suspect met the suicide bomber description, is that correct?

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: That is correct, yes. 

Chairman McCaul: So you had him, and then you show this evidence and you asked your commander if you could shoot?

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: We did, Chairman. Both myself and my team leader asked for engagement authority and he responded with he did not have that authority, so we asked who did and he told us he did not know and would go find out. In that time, in the time of talking with him and keeping eyes on this individual over the course of 30 minutes, the two individuals both disappeared into the crowd of thousands, as shown on the slides I was talking about. I mean, I think everyone can understand, by looking at some of those pictures that I had up there, how enormous the crowd was, I mean it was unfathomable. Very easy to move through and conceal yourself and that’s what happened. 

Chairman McCaul: So you asked for engagement permission and your commanding officer says, “I don’t know?”

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: That is correct. 

Chairman McCaul: He doesn’t know if you have permission to take out the threat?

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: Yes. 

Chairman McCaul: There are no rules of engagement on the ground?

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: We were told to pass our command if we saw any suspicious activity or hostile intent, and that’s exactly what we did. We were not returned with an answer. 

Chairman McCaul: And then you ask well who does know? 

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: Yes. 

Chairman McCaul: And he says he doesn’t know but would find out and he never got an answer to you?

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: He never did.

Chairman McCaul: And the individual disappeared? 

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: That he did.

Chairman McCaul: And you believe that that was the suicide bomber?

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: We do.

Chairman McCaul: And then you said we made everyone aware on the ground, operations had halted, started again plain and simple – “we were ignored. Our expertise was disregarded and then lastly, no one was accountable for our safety that day.”

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: That is correct, Chairman. 

Chairman McCaul: No one was held accountable? 

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: No one was and no one is to this day. 

Chairman McCaul: Did your battalion commander run that request up the chain of command?

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: He should have. That was his responsibility to, I don’t know if he did. 

Chairman McCaul: Wouldn’t that be the normal protocol? 

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: That would be the normal protocol, Chairman. 

Chairman McCaul: But we don’t know. And as a result, we have 13 dead servicemen, women, we have 170 Afghans killed, and 45, including yourself sir, injured. 

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: That is correct. 

Chairman McCaul: Because that threat could not be taken out because your commanding officer couldn’t give you the order?

Sgt. Vargas-Andrews: That is correct. 

Chairman McCaul: Amazing.