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The most heartbreaking moments from the Gold Star families’ testimony on the Kabul attack

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The families of the 13 US service members killed outside Kabul airport during the army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan gathered outside Congress for the first time this week to demand answers about the deaths of their loved ones, almost two years after the tragic day.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, held a congressional forum with Gold Star families on Monday, where for nearly 90 minutes Americans heard moving testimonies of how grieving families felt cheated and betrayed by their own government.

Several have called out President Biden and his top Cabinet officials by name, calling on them to step down. The father of a deceased US Marine has called on the president to “be a grown man”.

A Ministry of Defense official said of the testimony later Monday: “The Ministry of Defense expresses its deepest condolences to the Gold Star families who lost loved ones in the tragic Abbey Gate bombing. We are eternally grateful for their service, sacrifice and commitment. efforts during evacuation operations. We also salute the historic and monumental efforts of all our military men and women who served honorably during the period of withdrawal from Afghanistan.

But several family members have criticized the Biden administration and some have even accused officials of lying about the circumstances of their loved one’s death.

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“We were told lies”

Kelly Barnett, mother of Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover, first addressed the panel and spoke for nearly 15 minutes, describing her pride in her Marine hero son, who had wanted to join the Corps from the age of 6.

Barnett broke down as she described her son’s fifth and final deployment to Afghanistan in 2021. She said they had to ‘clean up the airport’ on leaving, not to ‘leave it dirty for the Taliban “.

She also accused Biden officials of lying to her about her son’s death – saying she was told he died immediately only to have eyewitnesses tell her he “lived for a little moment”.

“We were told lies, incomplete reports, incorrect reports, total disrespect,” Barnett said. “I was told to my face that he died instantly. It’s not true. The only reason I know is because witnesses told me the truth. lied and I was basically told to shut up.”

A photo of Staff Sgt. Taylor Hoover sits on the steps of the Utah State Capitol as family members arrive for a memorial service Aug. 29, 2021 in Salt Lake City.

“No illusion, no one will be prosecuted”

Another Gold Star mother seeking answers for her son’s death, Cpl. Hunter Lopez said she was not surprised at how difficult it was for her to get to the bottom of what happened.

“Our system is quick to identify culprits in faraway countries, yet we are challenged to assess ourselves,” she said.

“I have no illusions that anyone will be prosecuted or fired for ignoring information or making bad decisions, not even for lying to all of our Gold Star families,” Alicia Lopez said. “This outcome is sad, but it is what we should expect from a system that would prefer to keep secrets for decades and beyond until someone finally has the decency to uncover classified information that would bring comfort to bereaved families.”

Lopez later added, “My request is that these mistakes be acknowledged, that my family and the other Gold Star families here…that we know who is responsible. We don’t want a partial truth or a told truth in a release. a book or when the information is declassified in 20, 30 or 40 years.”

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Hunter Lopez

Hundreds salute Cpl. Hunter Lopez, who died in the Afghanistan airport attack, at the Memorial Amphitheater at Riverside National Cemetery in California on September 18, 2021.

‘Avenge me’

launches the corporal. Kareem Nikoui’s father, Steve Nikoui, has accused Biden of using his son Marine ‘as a pawn so that we can meet his 9/11 deadline and get the perspective he wanted’ on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. two years ago.

“My life and that of my family have been on pause since the early morning of August 26, 2021,” said the emotional father. “The difference between the minutes of my life before that and the minutes that passed after that day is starkly contrasted.”

Closing his remarks, Steve Nikoui told an anecdote of a game he and Kareem shared when he returned to his base.

“I’ll be (at) the other end of the house far away, and I’ll wait to hear the door creak because of the hinge, the front door. And as soon as I hear that, I’ll scream just as loud that I could name him, Kareem. And it was to pay homage to all the father-son movies ever made. … I’d be like, ‘Avenge me!’ biggest smile,” Nikou said.

“And now all I hear is him in his soft voice, ‘Avenge me.'”

“I started shaking”

The Gold Star’s mother, Cheryl Rex, described having a visceral reaction to President Biden’s comments about her son’s death during the handover ceremony when she received the body of her son, Lance Cpl. Dylan Merola.

“I and the other families of our 13 were waiting for the arrival (of the plane) in the United States when Joe Biden, our president-elect, walked into the room. When he approached me, he said, “My wife, Jill, and I know how you feel. We also lost our son and brought him home in a flag draped casket. My heart beats faster,” Rex said.

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“I started shaking knowing their son had died of cancer and they could be by his side,” she said.

Rex said she began “to wonder how anyone could honestly, I’m sorry, be so heartless to say they knew how I felt just over 24 hours after learning of the death of my son”.

“After this meeting, I never had any personal correspondence and my son was not honored or his name pronounced by this commander-in-chief or his administration,” she said.

US military plane evacuates people from Afghanistan

A US military aircraft takes off from Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Associated Press)

“A Knife in the Heart”

“I can’t even begin to piece together the words that would convey to you the devastation his murder brought to our family,” said Christy Shamblin, the Marine Sergeant’s mother-in-law. Nicole Gee, told forum officials.

“When your child is murdered, you feel like there is no justice and you question your very existence,” she said.

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Shamblin sometimes had to stop during her testimony as she was overwhelmed with emotion. Her tearful declaration that her daughter was a “bada– Marine” earned her an encouraging round of applause.

But among his most emotional statements was a reaction to Biden officials hailing the evacuation as a success.

“When our leaders, including the Secretary of Defense and our Commander-in-Chief, called this evacuation a success, as if there were to be a celebration, it is like a knife in the heart for our families and for the people (who) came back,” Shamblin said. “I live (every) day knowing these deaths were preventable. My daughter could be with us today.”

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