STAFF: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. I'm Commander Beth Teach. Thank you for joining us today.
Just a couple notes at the top, we have press both here in the room with us and on the phone. We're going to take questions from both. I would add ask that you please introduce yourself and name your news organization at the start of your question.
Our first two speakers, General McKenzie and Lieutenant General Clark, will frame today's brief and then we will hear from the investigation team. And we will hold questions until the end. With that, I'll direct your attention to General Frank McKenzie.
GENERAL KENNETH F. MCKENZIE JR.: Thank you and good afternoon, everybody.
We're with you today to brief the results of the investigation that I directed into the ISIS-K bombing at Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport that occurred on 26 August 2021 that caused the deaths of 11 Marines, 1 soldier, and 1 sailor.
We have completed our solemn duty of informing surviving family members about the results of the investigation and we're now providing it to the public in order to better inform you of the facts surrounding this tragic loss of life.
While the majority of this detailed brief will be conducted by the investigating team who searched for the facts and interviewed more than 100 people, I wanted to take a moment at the beginning to provide my thoughts on the investigation and what the team determined. This brief will provide great context on the situation at Abbey Gate leading up to and during the attack as well as the aftermath.
I found the results of the team's work comprehensive, credible and definitive. I found the brief you are about to receive to be powerful and moving. The volume of evidence collected, the testimony of more than 100 people, the analysis of experts, the findings of fact, and the conclusions of the team based upon that evidence gives a compelling and truthful examination of the event.
GEN. MCKENZIE: The investigation found that a single explosive device killed at least 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. servicemembers by explosively directing ball bearings through a packed crowd and into our men and women at Abbey Gate.
The disturbing lethality of this device was confirmed by the 58 U.S. servicemembers who were killed and wounded, despite the universal wear of body armor and helmets that did stop ball bearings that impacted them but could not prevent catastrophic injuries to areas not covered.
The investigation found no definitive proof that anyone was ever hit or killed by gunfire, either U.S. or Afghan. This conclusion was based upon the careful consideration of sworn testimony of more than 100 witnesses, and especially those witnesses in 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.
This conclusion was also confirmed by the findings and analysis of medical examiners and explosive experts, a review of all available physical evidence, and a review of all available video evidence, including an MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle which began observing the scene about three minutes after the attack.
At this point I want to acknowledge that the investigation differs from what we initially believed on the day of the attack. At the time, the best information we had in the immediate aftermath of the attack indicated that it was a complex attack by both a suicide bomber and ISIS-K gunmen.
We now know that the explosively fired ball bearings caused wounds that looked like gunshots, and when combined with a small number of warning shots, that led many to assume that a complex attack had occurred.
The fact that this investigation has contradicted our first impression demonstrates to me that the team went into this investigation with an open mind in search of the truth. It also confirms the age old fact that the battlefield is a confusing and contradictory place, and it gets more confusing the closer you are to the actual action.
That is why I ordered the investigation to find the truth. Our commitment to transparency has now led us to provide you our best information, information derived from a thorough and comprehensive investigation.
The investigation found that military leadership on the ground was appropriately engaged on force protection measures throughout the operation of Abbey Gate, and that the medical services that were available and that were ready saved every life they possibly could through heroic efforts.
This was a terrible attack that resulted in tragic outcomes and a horrific loss of life, both Afghan and American. My hope is that by the time this brief is over, you will have a clearer picture of the situation and of the attack.
While nothing can bring back the 11 Marines, the soldier and the sailor that we tragically lost in this attack, it's important that we fully understand what happened. Their sacrifice demands nothing less.
With that, I'll now turn it over to the investigative team to provide you an extensive brief, and following that brief they'll be prepared to take your questions.
With that, I'm going to turn it over to Lieutenant General Ron Clark, the Army Forces Central Command component commander. Thank you very much.
LIEUTENANT GENERAL RON CLARK: Thank you, sir.
And good afternoon.
As General McKenzie just said, I'm Lieutenant General Ron Clark. I'm the commanding general of U.S. Army Central and 3rd Army.
On the 15th of September 2021, I was tasked by U.S. Central Command to conduct an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding the attack on U.S. forces at Abbey Gate on the 26th of August 2021. The attack took place at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, which we will refer to throughout this briefing as HKIA.
GEN. CLARK: As a result of this attack, 13 of our nation's best and brightest, our heroes, paid the ultimate sacrifice in an effort to save the lives of American citizens and thousands of Afghans during the noncombatant evacuation of HKIA. Our sincere condolences go out to the families, their loved ones and all those who suffered this tragic loss of our fallen comrades.
Our multiservice investigation team conducted a comprehensive examination of the tactical-level actions on the ground by U.S. personnel at Abbey Gate. The team focused on data operations, force protection, force posture, leadership, unit readiness and all other relevant actions before, during and after the attack. For this investigation, I appointed Brigadier General Lance Curtis, the commanding general of the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command as our lead investigator. General Curtis and our investigative team will present the comprehensive, credible and compelling facts and findings of this investigation.
BRIGADIER GENERAL LANCE CURTIS: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm Brigadier General Lance Curtis. I'm currently forward deployed in the CENTCOM AOR as a part of ARCENT.
On the 17th of September I was appointed as a lead investigator to look at the attack on U.S. forces at Hamid Karzai International Airport on the 26th of August. At that time, I appointed a team of seven, and they're with me today. I have two Marines, Colonel C.J. Douglas of the MARCENT G5 and I have Lieutenant Colonel John Naughton, also of the MARCENT G5. I also have Lieutenant Colonel Burt Smith, Major Brad Hannon, Captain Alec Porter and Lieutenants Nicole Rodrigues and Sean Poiani.
We have conducted 70 interviews of 139 people in five different countries at seven different locations. Those interviews add -- averaged from one to six hours, and we had a total of 250 exhibits that were collected during the investigation.
Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, I want to talk about the key point slide, and at the end of the day, this drives the rest of the discussion. And quite frankly, some of these key points will be in contradiction to earlier information that you may have heard.
Today, we're going to show you why this was not a complex attack. It was a single blast, and it did not have a follow-on attack. There were a series of crossing fires to the front of the servicemembers on the ground that created the illusion that there was a complex attack, but there absolutely was not. There were no gunshot wounds. We have universal agreement between the Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office, and also, the medical providers on the ground. There were absolutely no gunshot wounds.
During the course of our investigation, we found no evidence that post-blast, U.S. servicemembers killed other U.S. servicemembers or Afghans.
We refer to the Taliban as unlikely partners. Leading up to the time when we asked them to partner with us on the 16th of August, we were conducting kinetic attacks against the Taliban.
Finally, we will show you conclusively why the time of the attack was 17:36 and 52 seconds. We have two overhead persistent infrared platforms that both independently detect the blast at that time, and we also have the classified chat room, which begins reporting the attack at 17:38. That was an indicator that the attack absolutely began before that.
This is a timeline of key events that were important to our investigation. On the 15th of August, Kabul falls to the Taliban. Concurrently, President Ghani departs Kabul. On the 16th of August, we had the large security breach on the airfield, and we asked the Taliban to assist us in clearing the airfield at that time, and the airfield is cleared by 22:30 on the evening of the 16th. On the 19th of August, we have 2nd Battalion and 1st Marine -- 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment that opens and mans Abbey Gate. Also, the Brits from 2 and 3 PARA begin their operations out of the Baron Hotel on the 19th of August.
On the 20th of August, we emplaced the Chevron, which consisted of six shipping containers at Abbey Gate. The Chevron is named because of the shape, and we'll show you some pictures that will give you a very good view of the Chevron later on. The Chevron is in place for at least two reasons: vehicle-borne IED threat mitigation, and also, it enables processing at Abbey Gate.
From the 20th through the 22nd of August, the gates were closed at HKIA. This is because the intermediate staging bases were at capacity. On the 25th of August, East and North Gate closed permanently. Now, we'll explain the reasons for that. East Gate was more challenging to process, given the geographic situation of the gate. At North Gate, there were vehicle-borne IED threats, and that was a leading cause in the decision to close North Gate.
From the 25th through the 26th we tracked the imminent threat streams at Abbey Gate and some of the other threat streams across HKIA. There were at least four imminent threat streams that occurred between the 25th and the 26th at Abbey Gate, and what we found is that leaders took the appropriate measures tied to these imminent threat streams. They would lower their profiles, seek cover and at times, they would even cease operations at the gate for periods of time.
At 16:00 on the 26th, Gulf Company changed out 4th Platoon with 1st Platoon. This was an hour earlier than scheduled, but this was because of the high OPTEMPO that was occurring, and also, the sensory overload. This demonstrated that leaders were keeping their fingers on the pulse of the situation on the ground.
We assess that leader presence was high at Abbey Gate not only on the 26th of August, but at all times. At 17:00 on the 26th, Brigadier General Sullivan, who was the Joint Task Force crisis response commander, was at Abbey Gate. That was 36 minutes before the blast. He was there for a meeting with the Brits and the Taliban. The 82nd Airborne Division commander, the 24th MEU commander were also at Abbey Gate on the 26th of August. The 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment Battalion commander was physically on the ground at the time of the blast, and he was wounded, and then we had multiple company commanders who were also on the ground at the time of the attack.
At 17:36 and 52 seconds on the 26th, we have the actual attack. Then, on the 31st of August, we have all U.S. aircraft and servicemembers that depart HKIA early in the morning at 00:02.
This is an overview of HKIA. The outline of HKIA, you see listed in red. The 1st of the 82nd, 1st Brigade, had half of the perimeter leading from the South Gate up to the North Gate, and then the Marines had the other half of the perimeter going from North Gate down to halfway between Abbey and South Gates.
There are two comfort areas that you see as the white goose eggs. These were areas where the Afghans could have bed-down, food, water, and also medical care, if required. And then additionally, the State Department had another chance to process Afghans before they were actually put on the plane.
GEN. CURTIS: There were four medical capabilities that you see listed on the map. The first one is a hospital that is at Camp Alvarado, in the upper left there. This was run by 1st Brigade of the 82nd, and they had one surgical team of four. The highest-level medical capability was the main hospital, and that's where the cursor is right now. This was a facility that was originally run by the Norwegians, but it became a joint facility. At any given time it remained a coalition flavor, in that you would have seen Norwegians there and frequently Brits and Germans as well.
This had eight surgical teams of four, a very robust medical capability. And it was sometimes referred to as a Role 2 enhanced and this was because it had additional capability, think a C.T. scan.
There were two Shock Trauma Platoons. The first was at the first was at the East Gate in a hardened facility. And that was run by the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment. The second was run by the 24th MEU in very close proximity to the main hospital.
There were high-speed avenues of approach, indicated by the wide arrows. Most notably, long the NSU Gate and leading to the North Gate, which culminated in a traffic circle. This ultimately was a heavily influencing factor in the decision to close North Gate.
Finally, I'll key in on Abbey Gate, which is highlighted in white at the bottom. In the next slide we're going to show you a better view of Abbey Gate. But as we transition to the next slide, you'll see it will be inverse of what you presently see, with the north-seeking arrow in the opposite direction.
When we began the investigation, there were different units that manned Abbey Gate and they called the sections of Abbey Gate by different names. We came to a common lexicon of three major portions of Abbey Gate: inner gate, outer gate, and the Chevron.
I'll start with the inner gate, which is in the yellow box. The inner gate is closest to the airfield. And once again, bear in mind this is an inverted view from what you just saw. There's an inner corridor, that spans about three football fields, leading down to the outer gate, which is also in the yellow box.
There's an additional outer corridor, which is about two football fields, leading down to the Chevron -- once again, named because of the shape. The Chevron was in place on the 20th of August and was primarily oriented towards vehicle borne IED threat mitigation and also allowed processing.
There are three towers that were important to our investigation.
The first is the 82nd tower, and you can see where the cursor is right now. This was a little bit outside of Abbey Gate and the individuals who were there gave us a very good picture of what happened on the 26th of August before, during, and after the blast because they are outside of the blast zone, and they are unaffected by the blast.
The second tower is the Marine sniper tower. I would ask you to use that as a point of orientation during the brief. It figures very prominently. Additionally, it provided Marines an overwatch security position along canal.
And the last tower is the U.K. tower -- once again, also outside of the blast area. And we have individuals who were there who were not affected by the blast. And they were able to tell us what -- what happened both before, during and after the blast.
The Baron Hotel is not a singular building. It's an entire complex, and you see it outlined in yellow. We have a canal that runs the length of Abbey Gate. And we have two footbridges, one that is 90 meters east of the sniper tower and the second that is next to the Baron Hotel complex.
We have the actual blast location as pinpointed by post-blast EOD analysis. And finally, we have the water tower, which is important to our findings of no complex attack. And we'll talk about that later in the brief.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL JOHN NAUGHTON: Good afternoon. My name is Lieutenant Colonel John Naughton. And on this slide, I'll be discussing the flow of evacuees at Abbey Gate throughout the course of the NEO.
I'll begin with how the process was originally designed, then discuss how the process evolved as conditions changed on the ground. Directing your attention to the top right portion of the slide, you'll see the Chevron obstacle we've referenced previously.
Again, the Chevron was comprised six shipping containers put in place the morning of 20 August to mitigate against possible vehicle borne improvised explosive device attacks and to establish an entry control point for the primary point of entry at Abbey Gate. The arrow on the top side of the Chevron depicts the entrance to the entry control point while the arrow on the bottom depicts the exit.
As originally intended, potential evacuees would approach the Abbey corridor from the southwest and would be met by Taliban members outside the Chevron, where the Taliban would conduct an initial search and inspect their documentation.
If allowed to pass through the entry control point, they'd be met inside the Chevron by either U.K. or U.S. service members.
If they were U.K. evacuees, they'd be escorted into the Baron Hotel compound where they'd processed, and eventually loaded onto vehicles, and transported into HKIA for evacuation. If they were U.S. evacuees, they'd be met by Marines from 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines and escorted to the holding area they had established in the outer corridor.
The following photo shows what the Chevron looked like from the ground. To orient you, this photo was taken from the outer corridor looking towards the southwest. The Baron Hotel compound is being circled on the left. The troops on the ground are primarily from 2 and 3 PARA, the U.K. units that were operating out of the Baron Hotel.
In the center of the photo, six shipping containers are arrayed in the shape of a Chevron. And on top are several Taliban members holding security as they did throughout the operation. On the left side there's a vehicle lane used primarily by the U.K. And on the right side is a lane the Marines utilized as a holding area for potential evacuees.
Potential evacuees in the outer corridor holing area would wait there for varying lengths of time depending on conditions on the airfield. These next two photos give you an idea of what the outer corridor would have looked like during the NEO.
The photo on the left is from 22 August and it was taken from the inner corridor looking towards the outer corridor. For a point of reference, the sniper tower is being circled on the left and the actual outer gate is visible in the middle.
In the outer corridor you see a large crowd of potential evacuees gather. This photo was taken on day three of no flights departing HKIA with evacuees due to the intermediate staging bases being at capacity. As a result, no additional evacuees were being allowed to enter the airfield. So the end state was that gates got backed up, as depicted in this photo.
The photo in the right was taken 25 August from just inside the outer gate. The Baron Hotel compound is in the background, and on the left side of the photo is a chain-link fence with a canal on the back side. On the right side is a queue of potential evacuees stretching from the inner to the outer corridor.
I'd like to draw your attention to the woman and children in yellow. Women and children under the age of 13 would have been searched by members of the female search team, which was comprised of female Marines and Corpsmen primarily from the 24th MEU who were tasked with searching and escorting women and children, and generally helped to de-escalate a variety of tense situations at the gates.
The male evacuees would have been searched by male Marines. All evacuees would have been searched initially in the outer corridor. But once they entered the inner corridor, they would have undergone a more thorough search where Marines would have gone through their bags to ensure they did not bring any contraband onto the airfield.
These two photos illustrate the close, personal contact between service members and evacuees required during these types of operations.
Once potential evacuees moved into the inner corridor, they would enter another holding area before moving -- moving onto the inner gate area, where State Department representatives would inspect their documentation.
If the State Department representatives approved their documents, evacuees would pass through the inner gate, load a bus and eventually get transported to the evacuation control center to get evacuated.
COL. NAUGHTON: If their documents were rejected, the potential evacuees would be turned back over to the Marines, who would escort them back out through the gate, either to the canal area or through the Chevron.
Of note, during interviews, Marines stated this was one of the most difficult and challenging tasks they dealt with throughout the NEO, as they literally had potential evacuees begging and pleading for their lives as they were being escorted back out.
That said, the process was originally designed and if an evacuee were to move straight from the Chevron to the inner gate it would have been about a five-minute walk. However that rarely happened.
As conditions on the ground changed the process for evacuee flow at the gate evolved. One of the reasons the process evolved was the Taliban became less and less cooperative at the Chevron. And Marines reported during interviews that there were entire days where not a single U.S. document holder entered through the Chevron.
Marines also reported seeing the Taliban turn potential evacuees away, beating potential evacuees and even made allegations of Taliban shooting at potential evacuees. So as the Chevron became largely impassible and potential evacuees became more and more desperate they began to seek out and utilize alternate ingress routes to bypass (inaudible) checkpoints.
These routes are generally depicted by the large yellow arrows on the left-hand side of this slide. And what we found happened was post would go out on traditional or social media highlighting the conditions and locations of Taliban checkpoint HKIA.
This post on the left is calling out the conditions at the Chevron on 25 August. We also learned during the investigation that in order to maximize the number of evacuees U.S. servicemembers and government officials worked directly with human intelligence personnel on the ground at HKIA as well as a number of private organizations to talk evacuees onto routes they could use to bypass the Taliban checkpoints.
So maps like the one on the right would be sent to an evacuee and would highlight the route they could use to bypass checkpoints and gain access to Abbey Gate. The result would be similar to what's seen in the photo in the center which shows large numbers of potential evacuees using side roads and back alleys to get to HKIA.
So potential evacuees would make their way down these alternate routes that eventually arrive at this parking lot areas that's being circled now and then they would have a few options for getting close to the outer gate area. They could turn left down the far side canal walkway, the could utilize the canal itself or they could cross the footbridge and turn down the nearest side canal walkway.
This photo was taking 25 August from the sniper tower and it's looking towards the Baron Hotel, which you can see in the background. The canal area is on the left and the canal itself is full as is the far side walkway.
We assessed that the vast majority of people we see in the canal area would have gotten there by using one of the alternate ingress routes.
This next photo was 26 August from further east down the canal looking towards the sniper tower, which you see being circled. The canal is in the middle of the photo. The left side of the canal is the far side walkway and the right side is the near side walkway.
On the 26th both walkways were full with people trying to make their way towards the outer gate area.
The next photo is also from the 26th and is taken from the far side of the canal looking towards the near side and the sniper tower. A group of Marines is at the base of the sniper tower trying to control the large crowds of potential evacuees on the near side canal walkway and they are separated by a series of Jersey barriers.
The photo shows how densely packed the canal on 26 August and this gives you an idea of why there were so many causalities as a result of the attack. As people were packed in the canal shoulder-to-shoulder, chest-to-back, standing immediately in front of the blast site.
It's important to highlight that early on in the operation the canal facilitated crowd control and provided some standoff between U.S. servicemembers on the near side of the canal and potential evacuees on the far side of the canal.
COL. NAUGHTON: Additionally, because it was a sewage canal potential evacuees were hesitant early in the evacuation to use the canal as an avenue of approach. However that changed dramatically and rapidly as desperation levels increased and more people began using the alternate ingress routes.
It's also important to note that just about every person seen in the canal is holding up some form of documentation in an effort to get identified and pulled from the canal to be evacuated.
This illustrates the complex and dynamic nature of this operation that as U.S. servicemembers at Abbey Gate were tasked with identifying potential evacuees in possession of the necessary documentation, pulling them from a large, unruly crowd, and then getting them transported to the evacuation control center.
As a result of our investigation we assess that it is highly likely the attacker from 26 August utilized one of the alternate ingress routes to access the Abbey Gate area. Because he would not have had to pass through a Taliban checkpoint, and he would not have had to show identification to get close enough to U.S. servicemembers to detonate his device.
While the intent was to take advantage of the terrain at Abbey Gate to execute an orderly evacuation process, conditions on the ground changed, people became more desperate, and the process evolved. Regardless of the process utilized, the nature of evacuation operations requires close personal contact between U.S. servicemembers and evacuees at some point along the way.
This video is from the morning of 25 August, the Marines seen in the video are from Echo Company, Second Battalion, First Marines. The two Marines you can see are standing on the jersey barriers at the base of the sniper tower.
The Marine on the left is holding himself up on the chain link fence which runs adjacent to the sniper tower. The Marine on the right will get pulled into the crowd by the muzzle of his weapon, and his fellow Marines will enter the crowd to assist him. Towards the end of the video, a Marine will come into view on the left and you'll hear him call to reinforce the area.
We show you this video for three reasons. First, it demonstrates how large, desperate, and aggressive the crowds were at Abbey Gate. Bearing in mind that this video was taken a little more than 24 hours prior to the attack, and we know from the investigation that the crowds at Abbey Gate swelled exponentially the evening of the 25th and into the 26th. So the crowd would have been even larger, more desperate, and more aggressive at the time of the attack.
The second reason is to illustrate the level of discipline and restraint displayed by Marines on a daily basis at Abbey Gate, as the Marines could have responded with deadly force after a man grabbed the Marines rifle, but they opted not to.
Finally, we show you this video to help understand why there was such a large number of Marines concentrated at the base of the sniper tower at the time of the attack on the 26th. As they needed to be there to control the large, desperate crowd and enable the evacuation to continue at Abbey Gate.
BRIGADIER GENERAL LANCE CURTIS: The next video is the only known footage of the blast itself. This is 48 meters from the blast. There's a white Hilux truck and three Marines. A single individual dressed in all black steps forward from the crowd.
BRIGADIER GENERAL LANCE CURTIS: In that space between the Marine and the foreground his antenna is where you're going to see that individual. The blast seems to emanate from this individual. The blast builds in the V where the cursor is right now, in-between the two Marines, and then there's a building that is currently not on the screen -- it's on the left. And you will see the blast overpressure coming through that window. It looks like dust. And that gives you an idea regarding the blast effects that servicemembers on the ground were actually feeling, even 48 meters from the blast. Finally, you will see the Marines orient towards a blast, and they will seek cover. We'll play the video wants, and then we'll stop and slow down and show you key aspects of the video.
Alec, play the video, please.
The first thing you'll see is in that space between the Marine's antenna and his chest; you'll see an individual dressed in all black where the cursor is circling right now. The blast seems to emanate from this individual. You will see the blast build in that V between the Marines antenna on the forefront and the Marine in the center. And then you also see the overpressure. It looks like dust that's coming through the window there, giving you an idea of what individuals on the ground were feeling in the way of blast effects. Finally, you will see the Marines orient towards a blast and seek cover.
MAJ. BRAD HANNON: Good afternoon, I'm Major Brad Hannon.
The following videos are from an overhead platform. The video begins three minutes and eight seconds after the attack. This full video will be made available following this briefing. And the edges of the video have been blurred to protect classified data from being displayed in order to allow us to release this footage. The attack occurs at 17:36 and 52 seconds, and it's time-stamped by two different overhead persistent infrared or OPIR detection sensors. These detections of a single blast indicate the origin point of the blast to have been in the vicinity of Abbey Gate. The intelligence cell takes that report and provides the information of an explosion having occurred to the intelligence and information sharing platform. Those reports are used to redirect the aircraft you're about to see.
As the footage begins, what you're seeing initially is the drone pilot orienting the camera to Abbey Gate at the Abbey inner gate. The initial movement scene is the Marines reacting to the blast moving down the inner corridor to assist at the site of the attack. This is the inner corridor area and is where State Department personnel processed evacuees during the evacuation. There are quite a few vehicles in the corridor, some of which were prepositioned as blocking obstacles for the closure of the gate before the joint tactical exfil. And some were used to evacuate casualties following triage.
On the left, the drone pilot maneuvers over the outer gate now and as well as the outer corridor. On the left is the Chevron in the Baron Hotel complex. Having reached the end of the corridor, the drone pilot research is back up the corridor for the site of the attack. The video will be paused here to show you a few things.
The vehicle scene on the far left of the screen is the white truck that was in the background of the previous video of the blast. The previous video would have been filmed from right here. As Brigadier General Curtis mentioned, this truck is 48 meters from the blast. The site of the attack was right here on the bottom right of the screen, just out of view due to the angle of the camera and the aircraft. Later in this video, the drone pilot reorients the camera and the aircraft to better view the site of the attack.
On the left-hand side of the screen, you can see the building where the blast overpressure passed through that window in the blast video. In the center of the screen are the U-shaped jersey barriers along with the high visibility orange panel that is attached to the fence. These points of reference to note the original hole in the fence, which is important because prior to the attack, Marines would have would have had to walk 30 meters from the outer gate down the outer corridor through the hole in the fence and then back another 30 meters to the base of the sniper tower. That 60-meter distance is a long way to evacuate a casualty, and exhibiting rapid response and adaptability, the Marines shorten that distance by cutting two additional holes in the fence closer to the outer gate.
Finally, I would like to point out the white vehicle on the far right, which is a visual indicator for being direct across the canal from the site of the attack. Next, the video will be fast-forwarded to the two-minute mark as the drone pilot is going to actually leave Abbey Gate for a moment. So, the footage is contextual but not relevant to the specific events as they occur. Please be advised the next segment of the video is graphic and that it clearly depicts casualty evacuation after the attack. You will not be able to identify individuals, but the movement is clearly visible.
As the next segment of a video begins, the drone pilot has switched his electric optical, infrared camera to IR mode, which is better for tracking and identifying movement. The camera orients first on the parking lot area and then pans past the site of the attack and focuses on an IR light on the ground near the original hole in the fence. For the next several seconds, the camera will focus on this area as Marines continue to evacuate casualties through the original hole in the fence. At this point, about five and a half minutes after the attack, the canal has emptied significantly as compared to the photos shown in the previous portion of this brief. The far side walkway across the canal also appears distinctly different from those photos.
The natural inclination of the crowd is to move away from the blast. U.K. troops, we're not allowing passage from the canal towards the Baron Hotel as a security measure. The crowd then is forced together and pushed back down towards the east past the site of the attack. In many cases, people had to run behind and over the site of the attack.
The location being shown now is where a Marine cut an additional hole in the fence about 10 meters from the original hole, which shortens the evacuation distance by 20 meters. Analysis of the video footage by the drone analyst specified the fact that they did not see any gunfire at any point throughout this video, either incoming or outgoing.
The location being pointed out now is the second hole that the Marines cut into the fence 10 meters from the base of the sniper tower, which again significantly shortened the evacuation distance. The video continues as Marines evacuate personnel and move them into the inner corridor where they had a pre-planned casualty collection point for initial treatment and triage. The movement of several personnel towards higher levels of care has already begun by this point in the footage.
The video is paused here in order to point out a few things about the site of the attack. What is shown now is seven minutes and 21 seconds post-blast. The view clearly shows the site of the attack, which originates from here.
There were three distinct large groups of potential evacuees who were injured and killed in the blast. The first being identified right now was directly surrounding the attacker on the far side walkway when he set off the device. The second is inside the canal below the wall where the device was detonated. The third large group of potential evacuees were near the base of the sniper tower, crowded and trying to work with the Marines in order to gain entry. This is the central point of where the U.S. casualties, which is being identified now. In addition to evacuation efforts, Marines moved to the outer corridor in order to assist in providing security along the wall, but again, no outgoing fire can be seen.
This video will end in about 30 seconds, which is eight minutes post-attack. By 20 minutes post-attack, all U.S. casualties were evacuated and moved into the inner corridor area for triage at the casualty collection point. All U.S. personnel were pulled back into the inner corridor, and no U.S. personnel left the gate again until the next morning when the explosive ordnance disposal team performed the blast analysis at 6:00 a.m. Eventually, 2 and 3 PARA units left the Baron Hotel in order to secure the outer corridor between the Baron Hotel and the outer gate until the end of their evacuation was complete.
LT COL BURT SMITH: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen; I'm Lieutenant Colonel Burt Smith.
I'm going to first orient you to the slide. The blast is located at the top of the slide on the far side of the canal. The two white arrows show the fragmentation pattern from the explosion. The killed in action are depicted in blue and the wounded in action in yellow. At the time of the blast, golf company and fox company two-one Marines were conducting evacuation operations in the outer gate area. The first platoon of golf company was holding back the crown of the base of the tower of the jersey barriers and simultaneously conducting evacuation screening of those in the canal area. Echo company and weapons company of two-one Marines were supporting from the inner corridor and also conducting other operations to prepare for the eventual closure of Abbey Gate. The killed in action at Abbey Gate number 13 on the 26th of August, the closest being three servicemembers, were approximately three meters from the blast, or 10 feet. They were standing up the canal wall, searching for potential evacuees amongst the crowd. The farthest killed in action was nearly 17 years from blast located near the vehicle in the outer corridor at the bottom of the slide. There were 26 wounded in action treated at the medical facilities at HKIA on the 26th of August 19 of those were wounded and were medically evacuated on 27 August. The reason so many servicemembers have consolidated the base of the sniper tower was a necessity to hold back the crowd. And you continue to screen potential evacuees for as long as possible to save as many lives as possible.
The fragmentation pattern shown on the previous slide is overlaid here on the Abbey Gate terrain. It's combined with data from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's boom tool, which measures pressure over range and determines blast effects of an explosion. Based on the size of the device, the blast effects were felt 15 meters out at Abbey Gate.
Now, Zone A is marked in red, and this is where servicemembers were exposed to the fragmentation of the blast itself as well as full blast effects. Blast Zone B marked in Orange is located in the outer corridor. The servicemembers there would have been felt -- would have felt unmitigated blast effects. The three Marines in the video of the blast were located just on the edge of Blast Zone B, 48 meters. He saw the involuntarily buckled when the blast wave passed through their location. Zone C is marked in yellow it's located in the inner corridor. The servicemembers here would have been exposed to mitigated blast effects. The walls in the inner corridor and the sniper tower would have offered them some protection from the blast.
Now, it's important to discuss blast effects because it explains why the number of wounded in action has actually risen after the attack. As units redeployed from HKIA, they conducted screening for traumatic brain injury, and it discovered that additional servicemembers were wounded in this attack. There are now 45 EOD servicemembers listed as wounded from this event.
The Explosive Ordnance Disposal Unit at HKIA conducted a post-blast analysis 13 hours after the attack on the morning of 27 August. They establish the location of the blast as the far side of the canal. The picture on the left is the view from the bomber looking across the canal at the servicemembers at the base of the tower. EOD establishes the location of the attacker because they found fragmentation noted by the yellow arrows in the inside of the near side canal wall; the attacker would have had been standing on the far side of the canal for the fragmentation to end up in that location. The picture on the right is a view of the servicemembers looking at the attacker from the base of the tower. You can see the charring on the fence behind the silhouette we've placed there; it's another indication the attacker was on the far side of the canal when the device was exploited.
Now, EOD determined this was a directional device. This Command Detonated 20 pounds of military-grade explosives and was person born. They sought forensic analysis of potential delivery device mechanisms. They collected shards of backpacks and other fabric and debris. Forensic (inaudible) was inconclusive, and no delivery mechanism can be determined under the circumstances, which is why we call it a person born IED.
EOD was able to conclude however it was delivered; the device would have been elevated on the attacker's body when he stepped up to the edge of the canal and exploded the ordinance, which explains why fragmentation was projected both into the canal landing in that wall and also across into the servicemembers on the far side of the canal. The fragmentation found at the blast site was five-millimeter ball bearings. The Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office also found ball bearings during autopsies of the 13 killed in action. The Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office concluded the penetrative injury suffered by those killed in action was caused solely by the ball bearings. They did not find bullet fragmentation or other evidence that gunshot wounds were suffered during the attack at Abbey Gate.
Wounds from ball bearings look remarkably similar to gunshot wounds. And the first responders at Abbey Gate may have confused the cause of the injuries. Additionally, doctors treating the casualties at the hospitals at North HKIA were openly describing the injuries as gunshot wounds in front of servicemembers. These descriptions were meant to aid the providers in treating the various traumas and as a point of reference amongst them. These are not medical determinations of the cause of injuries. The Armed Forces Medical Examiner's Office does make determinations on the cause of injuries and found that ball bearings caused catastrophic injuries to the upper chest, neck, and face as well as the lower abdomen of those killed in action at Abbey Gate.
The number of potential evacuees killed and injured was difficult to determine. Open Source reporting from approximately three days after the blast concluded that over 160 to 170 were killed by this explosion in this attack. (inaudible) the number of potential factories outside Abbey Gate in the vicinity of the canal area at the time of the blast as shown in the pictures in the upper left and the upper right combined with statements from servicemembers who were at or at Abbey Gate post-blast we found this number to be reasonable under the circumstances.
Now, in a few moments, we'll talk -- we'll discuss the lack of a complex attack, but it should be noted there was outgoing small arms fire in the form of warning shots post-blast. This came from the U.S. servicemembers as well as coalition forces. Based on the evidence collected during the investigation, we concluded the shots fired post-blast did not contribute to the injury suffered by the potential evacuees at Abbey Gate. The injuries suffered from potential evacuees are attributed solely to the blast.
COLONEL C.J. DOUGLAS: I am Colonel C.J. Douglas, and I will discuss the details and the key finding that this was not a complex attack.
The attack at Abbey Gate was a single personal born improvised explosive device with no associated enemy small arms fire. Through a review of the overhead persistent infrared detections sensor data, the U.S. Explosive Ordnance Disposal report, and subsequent interviews with personnel in the Abbey Quarter and surrounding area, the investigation determined there was only one explosion. Early reports describe the complex attack, including reports of gunfire and gunshot wounds. We now know this is not true. Additionally, there is no proof that any U.S. or Afghan person was injured or killed by gunfire.
Several factors contributed to the initial belief that this attack was complex, including the fog of war and disorientation due to blast effects, the Marines' heightened alert toward the Taliban, and the presence of gunfire used for warning shots.
Within seconds of the blast, Marines experienced mental and physical friction. Mentally, they worked through the uncertainty about what had just occurred and the possibility that the Taliban could be responsible. Very quickly Marines determined the Taliban were neither involved nor threatening U.S. personnel.
Physically, Marines experienced blast effects which caused disorientation. Several interviews discussed the presence of teargas which was released when the CS canisters worn on the Marines equipment were punctured by ball bearings from the blast. At this point, Marines were simultaneously enduring teargas and blast effects while responding to a mass casualty situation.
Plainly put, the blast created instant chaos and sensory overload. And as you've seen from the pictures and videos, this effected the enormous potential evacuee population as well. Through a number of interviews with personnel who were not impacted by the blast, witnesses confirmed gunfire was present as warning shots were fired from three separate locations in order to maintain crowd control.
For context, these events all happened in a very short amount of time. I'll explain how and where the gunfire originated. The two blue dots closest to the Baron Hotel depict U.K. forces that fired warning shots across the frontage of Marines in the quarter and over the heads of evacuees. The shots were fired in order to assist with dispersing the crowds within the quarter.
The third blue dot depicts a Marine element that fired four warning shots over the head of an individual who displayed concerning behavior and appeared to be observing the casualty site. This individual of interest ultimately fled unarmed.
These events occurred a short time after the attack, and resulted in nearly simultaneous gunfire from three separate points, travelling across the frontage of servicemembers operating within a confined space. That confined space caused an echo, which created the illusion of a firefight.
The fourth blue dot depicts the location of a team of Marines who observed gunfire going across their frontage to the east. During interviews, this team of Marines stated they observed a military age male, armed with an AK-47 on top of the two story building with a water tower.
Although the Marines did not see him fire, they believe he exhibited hostile intent when they observed him with the weapon and also observed the subsequent gunfire across their frontage following the blast. They engaged him, but did not see any effect. Further interviews concluded that no one had seen any effect on the individual.
In closing, interviews with personnel located at two positions that were outside the blast effect area confirmed that the gunfire observed within Abbey Gate corridor was simply warning shots that were fired to disperse the crowd and there was no complex attack.
Another key aspect of the investigation reviewed the medical capabilities. We have universal agreement between the Armed Forces Medical Examiners Office, and also the highly experienced medical providers on the ground that the wounds sustained by the killed in action at Abbey Gate were so catastrophic that none could be saved.
The investigation heard important witness accounts from doctors and first responders who explained that triage was very effective at the point of injury, and there was a robust medical capability, including nine surgical teams of four and a shock trauma platoon located close to Abbey and East Gates. An ER doc, assigned to the shock trauma platoon directly contributed to the saved lives.
Fortuitously leaders on the ground kept medical capabilities in place longer than originally planned. This meant that at the time of the attack we were in the best possible position on the ground to respond. Although still tragic, medical providers assured that every servicemember that could be was saved.
Ladies and gentlemen, it's been an honor to brief you today with the intent of taking you virtually to Abbey Gate. All of that in effort to gain a better understanding of the conditions on the ground, as well as the exceptional professionalism, determination, and courage of our Marines, soldiers, and sailors.
We look forward to answering any or all of your questions at this time.
STAFF: We'll start with AP on the phone, Lita Baldor.
Q: Hi, Lita with the Associated Press.
I was wondering if you could address a little bit more fully what if anything, the Taliban may have been able to do to prevent this. I mean, was there -- because you say there were a number of avenues that were being used, that people knew about to some degree -- was there a deliberate, I guess lack of effort by the Taliban to control this? Does the Taliban bear any responsibility?
GEN. CURTIS: This is General Curtis. What I can tell you is that as we mentioned previously in the brief, there was a 1700 meeting that occurred right before the attack, 36 minutes before the blast. This was actually a topic of discussion that was being discussed at that briefing between Brigadier General Sullivan, the Brits and the Taliban.
And I would also like to point out that what also is heavily influencing to this situation is that the situation over a very condensed time period changed dramatically. And the numbers that were actually at Abbey Gate swelled significantly, and that certainly impacted the situation.
Q: General Curtis, how can you rule out that the Taliban did not know that this bomber was heading in that direction? Is it possible that the bomber knew about the 5 o'clock meeting and was just late and (is ?) trying to disrupt that meeting? And how -- later when you say that it was quickly determined that Taliban were not involved by the Marines there, how can you say that? What evidence do you have?
GEN. CURTIS: The meeting, once again, that occurred at 1700, 36 minutes before the blast. This was also an opportunity for the Taliban to share any information that they had with U.S. forces, and our best indicators are that they did that. We don't have any evidence through the course of our investigation that leads us to believe that the Taliban knew about this attack.
Q: But then why would we -- if there was so much intelligence that morning why would the gate still (close at ?) 5:36? Wasn't it supposed to be closed already? Was it kept open for some reason?
GEN. CURTIS: Jennifer, there were several times when there was discussion of closing the gate. And I don't want to anchor everything on that 1700 meeting, but I know for a fact that's another topic that was being discussed. So there are several influencing factors on the time, you know, and keeping the gate open.
One influencing factor certainly is that there are still individuals that are being identified in that large crowd that fit the criteria. A second influencing factor is that we have coalition forces who still have individuals that we know they're trying to also evacuate, but those are two lead influencing factors.
And then another is that we're also very mindful of what happened on the 16th of August when we actually had Afghans that flooded the airfield. We absolutely want to prevent another situation like that because we know that that can influence several things. It can throw off our timelines for departure and it also takes a lot of time to clear those crowds.
Q: Lastly, there were reports at the time that the identity of this bomber was known in advance. Is that true?
GEN. CURTIS: Jennifer, there is a separate investigation that is being conducted by the FBI that's taking a look at that. That's outside the scope of our investigation.
STAFF: Courtney Kube, NBC.
Q: Hi. Two things. So I just want to be clear that meeting that you've been referencing, the 5 p.m. meeting, part of that on the discussion -- of the discussion of that was when to close the gate. Just to be clear that the decision was made there that the gate was not going to close yet. Correct?
GEN. CURTIS: What I would tell you, Courtney, is that it was a topic of discussion. I would not say that the decision was made in that meeting, but it was a topic of discussion at the time.
Q: What time did the gate usually close? I mean, was it usually...
GEN. CURTIS: Well, I think -- I think there's a difference between the gate actually closing and ceasing operations at the gate. There's a -- there's a very big difference. So there are always individuals that are there, but whether or not they're actually processing evacuees is different.
So ceasing operations, lowering profile, seeking cover, and also not processing is very different from actually closing.
Q: And then just one more. On the timeline there's a 25-26 August reference that says there were four minute threat streams reported at Abbey Gate and 2/1 leaders take probate action. Can you tell us about those four threat streams? What specifically was the action?
GEN. CURTIS: There were multiple threat streams during the course of operations at HKIA. Those particular threat streams, I won't go into details on them, but what I can tell you is they were consistent with other reporting that had occurred but they were very nonspecific. So there was nothing coming out of those particular threat streams at that time that would have led them to believe, you know, that what occurred at 1736 and 52 seconds was about to occur.
Q: I mean, now, I mean, there's no Americans there. This operation is completely over. Is there a reason you can't tell us a little bit more about what you were -- what I'm curious is were there -were there threat streams coming in, so you were focusing your security more on something else and that's maybe how this bomber was able to get in? I'm wondering if -- can you -- can you shed any light on that?
GEN. CURTIS: Well, I -- as I mentioned, Courtney, I think the threat streams were not specific at that particular time.
STAFF: And we'll take one from the phone. Tara Copp, Defense One, if you're on the line.
Q: Thank you both -- thank you all for doing this. I have a couple of follow up questions. We haven't been able to see the video of the marine being pulled into the crowd, but after that event happened were there any discussion about putting up additional defenses for the marines there right along the perimeter if not a Jersey barrier or something similar instead of just more personnel?
And then secondly, has there been any evidence gathered from the scene, fragments, et cetera, that has helped in the law enforcement investigation in identifying the affiliation of the bomber? Thank you.
GEN. CLARK: Well, Tara, thanks for that question. As we look at -- you couldn't see the video, but basically it showed two marines standing on top a Jersey barrier. One was pulled into the crowd by the barrel of his weapon by a potential evacuee. In that case what I'd like to highlight is that, again, this is a noncombatant evacuation.
So rather than using deadly force or force really of any kind the marines showed great restraint, discipline, and courage by just retrieving their teammate from the crowd and moving on.
Part of the reason there were no additional barriers or constraints had to do with the fact that they were actively pulled potential evacuees from the crowd, which included American citizens and others. So again, they had to have access to the crowd and they had to have close personal contact with those that they were trying move to approach a location to get processed.
I'd also offer that if you go back to the slide that showed where our service members were wounded or killed, a number of service members were on top of the wall, again, for the purpose of trying to identify individuals to be evacuated as a part of the noncombatant evacuation operation.
Q: So it sounds like there wasn't really an option to add additional barrier protection for all of those service members on the wall.
GEN. CLARK: They provided protection in other ways. There were -- there were means through which we know that the device was command detonated, not detonated by some sort of phone or remote control device because of counter measures that were used at the gate at the time.
Based on the threats and the streams that the command received and pushed all the way down to company level, commanders on the ground took the appropriate measures to lower their profile, cease operations if they needed to, or close the gate if necessary to protect the force because the bottom line is we evacuated 124,000 people out of HKIA. In order to get that kind of volume through a screening process that requires them to have appropriate documentation and to be physically checked on the ground, it's an arduous test, but again it takes close, personal contact on the part of marines, soldiers, and sailors in order to do that.
Q: Thank you.
In the presentation you throughout described a deterrence and security situation on all fronts. The Taliban wasn't checking documents or letting in Americans or those with documentation at these new routes that opened up, and I was just wondering if you could help me understand a couple things.
One, who made the determination to not close the gate, and on what basis was that made? You talk about these meetings, and it seems that there were several. Who had the authority? Who decided let's keep the gate open?
GEN. CLARK: Commander on the ground was Rear Admiral Pete Vasely. He was the commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan and all of their forces on the ground were under his command and control.
Every day, not just on the -- not just on the 26th but every day forces on the ground there, specifically the commander of JTF82, Major General Donahue, was tasked by General Sullivan to meet with the Taliban because HKIA was basically a defense in depth. So the Taliban being unlikely partners, as we described in the brief, there was an ongoing dialogue about how we were to continue to work with them to facilitate the evacuation.
Q: So I appreciate that, but I guess what I don't understand is there are those yellow arrows coming in that showed how people were divided in half in through the original checkpoint. Why was there not additional security measures put in by the U.S. at that point, or some way to sort of be able to inspect people coming in that way?
GEN CURTIS: Sir may I? So I think it's very important to once again go back to the fact how quickly this happened. And I also would mention that it is vitally-important that at this time, there is a constant assessment that is going on between the risk to force and the risk to mission. So trying to push potential U.S. servicemembers out that far really would have dramatically increased the risk to our servicemembers.
Q: Well, then, and my final question is based on your findings, is there a scenario in which this could have been prevented? And if so, how?
GEN. CURTIS: Based on our investigation at the tactical level, this was not preventable and the leaders on the ground followed the proper measures, and any time there was an imminent threat warning they followed the proper procedures: they lowered their profile, they sought cover, and at times, they even ceased operations at the gate.
GEN. CLARK: And if I can caveat, the reason that we identified the number of leaders who were on the ground throughout the course of the day on the 26th is because, again, it's understanding of the hazards of our chosen profession and knowing that the leaders need to be on the ground to share those same hardships with their subordinates. So understanding that the mission is -- is very difficult, but necessary, those leaders were on the ground to ensure there was no problem.
Q: Yes, General, but what I'm hearing you guys say is with the resources available and the -- and the mission before them, it was not preventable. That's -- that's what I'm hearing (inaudible).
GEN. CLARK: That's correct.
STAFF: We have time for one more question. Oren Liebermann, CNN?
Q: You spoke to U.S. forces, as well as -- as well as coalition forces. What effort was made, if any, to speak to Afghan witnesses who were there through intermediaries? It seems you have the perspective of those -- of -- of the U.S. forces who generally would have had HKIA behind them, so they're looking in one direction, but not Afghan witnesses, of which there were, certainly, many who survived who had the -- the opposite perspective, 180-degrees view. Was there any effort made through intermediaries to reach out to any of those?
GEN. CURTIS: A challenge for us was that by the time we started investigating this, obviously, U.S. forces had already left. But I think a very important aspect regarding that was that what we did have was we had individuals who were able to tell us -- you know, I talked about the individuals in the tower -- those -- that's one example -- unaffected by the blast and able to tell us what happened before, during and after the blast, and unaffected by what actually happened. So talking to actual Afghans -- very difficult, given the current structure of Afghanistan, and also the fact that U.S. forces had -- had already left.
Q: We -- we -- we used, for example -- and I'm using this broadly -- we -- we're in touch with Qatar to get U.S. citizens out even just a few days ago, there was a flight. Was there any effort made through Qatar or through somebody else that has people on the ground there to reach out to the Afghan witnesses? If not, why not? It seems like they'd have a valuable perspective.
GEN CURTIS: Yeah. That was -- during the course of our investigation we did not have an opportunity to speak with Afghans on the ground.
Q: And one more Q: How many U.S. and -- and coalition servicemembers in all opened fire with the warning shots? And do you know how many rounds were fired in total, ballpark?
GEN. CURTIS: Yeah, so the -- from the Brit locations, the estimate was 25 to 30 rounds. From the 3rd Marine location, you know, they had the individual that caused concern to them; approximately four rounds from there. And then from the last location, I think that exact round count is unknown at this time.
STAFF: OK, we've got to wrap it up, you guys.
Q: Just a quick clarification about the 5:00 P.M. meeting: Were you asked by your partners to keep the gate open during that meeting?
GEN. CURTIS. It was a topic of discussion. I know that. That's the extent of my knowledge regarding that meeting.
STAFF: All right, we're going to wrap it up, you guys. Thanks so much.