The senior US general for the Middle East has ordered additional interviews be conducted regarding the 2021 Abbey Gate bombing in Kabul, Afghanistan, which killed 13 US service members during the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US military announced Friday.
The additional interviews are the result of an internal review ordered by the commander of US Central Command Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, who directed US Army Central commander Lt. Gen. Pat Frank in June to review public testimony about the bombing for any new information not included in CENTCOM’s previous report.
“The purpose of these interviews is to ensure we do our due diligence with the new information that has come to light, that the relevant voices are fully heard and that we take those accounts and examine them seriously and thoroughly so the facts are laid to bare,” said a statement from CENTCOM spokesman Michael Lawhorn.
Though the interviews don’t constitute a formal reopening of the investigation into the circumstances surrounding the attack, this represents an effort by the military to re-examine testimony after members of those killed have expressed anger and dissatisfaction with the original review.
It’s unclear if the new interviews will include Afghans who witnessed the blast, which killed more than 170 Afghan civilians.
When pressed on whether the interviews would include Afghans, Lawhorn said it would be “up to the Supplementary Review Team to decide who to interview.”
“I cannot be explicit about anything that the Supplementary Review Team may or may not decide to review in the future,” Lawhorn said.
CENTCOM released a lengthy after-action review last year that included statements from more than 100 witnesses. Many service members interviewed gave conflicting recollections about the person they were on the look-out for – some said no description seemed to fit clearly, or that they didn’t see anyone fitting the description they’d been given before the blast, while others said they believed they saw the person in question in the crowd.
Among the differing recollections of what happened on August 26, 2021, is testimony from Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, who was seriously injured in the blast and who has said he was not interviewed in CENTCOM’s original investigation.
Vargas-Andrews testified before Congress in March that Marines had requested permission to shoot who they believed to be the suicide bomber, but never got permission.
“Plain and simple, we were ignored. Our expertise was disregarded. No one was held accountable for our safety,” Vargas-Andrews said.
Lawhorn’s statement said that Vargas-Andrews’ public comments “made statements about his experience that contained new information not previously shared by any other witness.” Frank’s review also found that additional service members were not interviewed due to “their immediate medical evacuation in the aftermath of the attack.”
“These interviews will seek to determine whether those not previously interviewed due to their immediate medical evacuation possess new information not previously considered, and whether such new information, if any, would affect the results of the investigation, and to ensure their personal accounts are captured for historical documentation,” he added.
The news comes just weeks after Gold Star family members of some of the 13 US troops who were killed in the Abbey Gate bombing demanded answers before Congress, saying they did not feel that they’d been given the full truth about what happened to their loved ones.
Lawhorn’s statement said that the next of kin of the 13 service members who were killed “are currently being informed of the supplementary interviews.”
The process for the interviews will begin “in the coming days,” Lawhorn said. Kurilla has requested an update on those interviews within 90 days, but has directed Frank to “take whatever time is necessary to ensure each of the witnesses not interviewed as part of the investigation have an opportunity to share their experience and perspective.”
CNN’s Nick Paton Walsh contributed reporting.