A Marine wounded in last year’s suicide bombing at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport claims the bomber was spotted near the airport days before the explosion that killed 13 American service members.
“We knew about him two days prior to the attack,” Tristan Hirsch of Chico, Calif., told his hometown paper, the Enterprise-Record, referring to the Aug. 26, 2021, bombing that also left at least 170 Afghans dead.
“We knew what he looked like. The CIA let us know,” he added about getting the heads up to look out for the suspicious man.
Hirsch said his fellow Marines recognized a man fitting the CIA description approach the airport’s Abbey Gate — where thousands were trying to enter in order to flee the country as their government fell — on multiple occasions prior to the attack.
“The day prior and the day during, he’d show up and leave,” said Hirsch, who no longer serves in the Marines. He clarified that he did not see the bomber personally.
The Post could not independently confirm Hirsch’s account, and many civilians approached the Abbey Gate multiple times in their efforts to escape the country ahead of the expected brutality of Taliban rule.
But at least one Marine was confident enough he’d identified the suspected bomber that he radioed for permission to kill him.
“A friend of mine who was a sniper racked back his rifle and was ready to kill the guy,” Hirsch told the newspaper. “We asked for permission and the reply was, ‘Let me get a military judge to see if it’s legal.’”
Hirsch also repeated the claim, echoed by others in the immediate aftermath of the attack, that there was a second bomber in the crowd who failed to detonate.
A Pentagon investigation into the attack disputed those accounts — as well as early reports that the attack involved a number of gunmen — determining the attack was the result of a lone bomber.
“The investigation found no definitive proof that anyone was ever hit or killed by gunfire either U.S. or Afghan,” Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie said in February. “This conclusion was based upon the careful consideration of sworn testimony of more than 100 witnesses, and especially those witnesses and Observation Towers — both American and British — who were in locations unaffected by the blast, and that had commanding views of the scene before, during and after the explosive attack.”
Hirsch was sent to Afghanistan for the botched evacuation as part of a so-called quick reaction force, ready to be scrambled from their base in Saudi Arabia to any regional hotspot in need.
His entire six-month deployment was spent firing thousands of rounds, preparing for Afghanistan, he said.
When the time came, however, the job required a different skill set.
“Our job was to find somehow certain passports and what’s legitimate and what’s a green card,” he told the paper. “We were given no visual aids, instructions were probably passed through 40 people. At times we had to be the bad guys, to turn people away. And you knew what was going to happen to them.
“The worst thing I think we had to do was turn people away. You turn them away, and you would just hear the execution shots 10 minutes later,” he added. “You could sometimes see what was going on; there was nothing you could do about it, you’d just have to sit there and watch.”
When the bomb went off at Abbey Gate, Hirsch said he was dazed.
“I remember getting hit by the blast, sitting there and I was looking at it,” he said. “My normal job was a combat engineer. I’d dealt with explosives all the time, blowing open doors, making trenches with explosives and really big amounts of explosives. I remember seeing it and thinking that’s not that bad, that’s not big.
“But what I failed to realize until 30 seconds went by was there were thousands of ball bearings in that 25-, 30-pound vest he was wearing. At the time I was pretty confused. One of my friends yelled at me to get cover. I was just kind of standing there — everyone yelled for a corpsman.”
Hirsch said the blast left him with a traumatic brain injury. He’s since left the Marines and has returned to California, where he lives with his wife and works with his father.
He cautioned readers against politicizing the events of last August.
“You never know what would have happened if either person was in office,” he said. “I think that’s something people don’t understand.”
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