On Aug. 26, 2021, 13 American service members were killed as they helped to evacuate American citizens and at-risk Afghans from the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. On the second anniversary of the bombing, former President Donald Trump spent four hours with the parents of the victims, who are still grieving and still angry over President Joe Biden's botched withdrawal that led to the deaths of their children.
Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) was also in attendance. It was Mr. Waltz who contacted Mr. Trump and asked if he would meet and spend time with the parents.
"These families of course are grieving. But they are also angry," he said. "They are disgusted, they're furious. They are still waiting for clear answers on how their loved ones died exactly. They were briefed one thing but are hearing conflicting reports from the survivors of the Abbey Gate bombing. Some of them still don't have all of the personnel effects, for example the sim cards from their phones, their final photos."
As Mr. Waltz explained, Mr. Trump spent four hours with the families at a round-table dinner, listening to their stories and promising that he would get the answers they have been demanding once he's back in the White House.
He promised to release everything.
"The tapes, the correspondence, the total lack of planning. All of it. Because they deserve transparency," Mr. Waltz said.
Abbey Gate had been used by U.S. forces to screen people who were trying to escape Afghanistan before the American evacuation ended. While U.S. officials had issued urgent warnings for Americans to stay clear of airport entrances because of security threats, thousands of people remained clustered outside the gate and packed into the narrow space just outside the airport walls.
While initial reports said it was "a complex attack" carried out "by both a suicide bomber and ISIS-K gunmen," Commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Corps Gen. Frank McKenzie revealed that the 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghan civilians were killed when a single explosive device, carried by one man, was detonated, sending "ball bearings through a packed crowd into our men and women at Abbey Gate."
The Marines who died that day were Lance Corporal David Espinoza, Sergeant Nicole Gee, Staff Sergeant Darin Hoover, Corporal Hunter Lopez, Lance Corporal Rylee McCollum, Lance Corporal Dylan Merola, Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoui, Corporal Daegan Page, Sergeant Johanny Pichardo, Corporal Humberto Sanchez, and Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz. Also killed in the bombing were Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss and Navy Corpsman Maxton Soviak.
During an Aug. 29 roundtable event with House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and other lawmakers, the parents of nine of the 13 service members killed in the bombing demanded answers and accountability from Mr. Biden's administration and from the Department of Defense.
"Not a single person has been held accountable," Mr. Schmitz told the Committee, investigating the terrorist attack that killed his son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz. "Our so-called leader can't seem to even utter their names in public, not even once. You, sir, stole their lives, their futures, their dreams and have ripped apart 13 families." In a message directed at Mr. Biden, he said he regretted not telling him what he thought directly to his face.
He angrily recalled standing on the tarmac at Dover Air Force Base as the "lifeless body" of his son was returned stateside, and watching President Biden check his watch "over and over again." All he wanted to do "was shout out" the time. "But out of respect for the other grieving families, I bit my tongue once again," he said.
Darin Hoover, the father of Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, called on President Biden, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and Gen. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley to resign, saying, "None of you have the respect of your men and women anymore."
"Do what is right," he said. "It's past time."
He also noted how President Trump's time with the Gold Star family members was clearly healing as, by the end of the dinner, many of them were laughing, dancing with each other, and crying on each other's shoulders.
To Mr. Waltz, only President Trump could do that, and at the end of the night they came to him and told him something that he considered to be "the most meaningful thing that they have had in the last 2 years."
Just by having President Trump there to listen to them and say he would give them the transparency they have been seeking for two years, Mr. Waltz said, "They believe he will deliver on that promise."