WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — U.S. Rep. Zach Nunn (R-IA-03) served three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, amassing some 1,000-combat flight hours. The freshman congressman said Wednesday’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the debacle that was the Biden administration-led U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was long overdue.
“It’s unfortunate it’s taken us almost two years to get to this point,” Nunn told The Iowa Star Wednesday morning on NewsTalk 1040 WHO. “We ended Afghanistan on Aug. 31  with one of the darkest chapters in America’s military history and a bruising focus on our inability to be an international leader.”
And then there were the Americans and close allies — who put their lives on the line in the battle against the terrorist Taliban –who were left behind.
The testimony of the people on the ground in those chaotic days was heartbreaking.
“I opened my eyes to Marines dead or unconscious lying around me. … My body was overwhelmed from the trauma of the blast. My abdomen had been ripped open, every inch of my exposed body except for my face took ball bearings and shrapnel,” Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, 25, told the committee, his voice choked with tears as he recalled the suicide bombing at Kabul airport’s Abbey Gate on Aug. 26, 2021.
Vargas-Andrews survived the explosion. Thirteen U.S. service members, including 23-year-old Daegan William-Tyeler Page, a Marine corporal who grew up in Red Oak, IA, did not. Tragically, Nunn noted, the deaths, the injuries, the destruction could have been avoided. He said a Marine sniper was “cleared visibly” to shoot the suicide bomber, but was “denied the opportunity.”
“As a result, we saw the tragic loss of 13 members of our Armed Forces, including Daegan Page right here in Iowa, who gave their lives to help others,” the congressman said.
A 2022 CENTCOM investigation concluded the Abbey Gate attack “was not preventable at the tactical level without degrading the mission to maximize the number of evacuees” and “was not the result of any act of omission or commission by forces on the ground.”
But an interim report by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul, (R-Texas) blamed the Biden administration for the chaos that accompanied the U.S. military departures from Afghanistan. In the process, Nunn noted, the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan abandoned some $7 billion in American military equipment — equipment that ended up in the hands of the Taliban.
“Our military members and veterans deserve our best because that is what we give to America. The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion, and there was an inexcusable lack of accountability and negligence,” Vargas-Andrews testified. “The 11 Marines, one sailor and one soldier that were murdered that day have not been answered for.”
Nunn recalled the many volunteers who stepped in to fill the void left by a government that seemed to be operating an evacuation without a plan.
The congressman was one of those volunteers.
A state senator at the time and running for congress, Nunn helped coordinate a rescue mission involving former Navy SEALs, Rangers, and Joint Special Operations teams. They flew to Afghanistan to evacuate Afghan citizens in the interior of the Taliban-controlled country. They were up against the clock of the U.S. deadline to flee, and they were racing against an enemy emboldened by the departure of American military power.
“We felt we had a moral obligation to be able to help these individuals who had our back for two decades by having their back today,” Nunn told Local 5 at the time.
Nunn told The Iowa Star the power vacuum following the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan has only precipitated Russia’s attempted power grab in Ukraine and China’s sabre rattling. With Republicans in control of the House, the Biden administration is finally facing tough questions about its handling of the Afghanistan debacle.
“What I’d like to say is this is the start of a bright next page on where Americans stood up and did the right thing when our government fell flat,” Nunn said. “But also we have the opportunity to really evaluate what went wrong so this never happens again.”
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.