Lone suicide bomber was responsible for deadly Afghanistan airport blast, military review finds

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A lone suicide bomber was responsible for the blast at the Afghanistan airport that killed 13 U.S. service members and more than 150 Afghans seeking to flee the country, U.S. military officials said Friday.

“The investigation differs from what we initially believed,” Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of U.S. Central Command, or CENTCOM, said at a news briefing detailing the findings of a report prepared by the military.

Military officials initially said the attack — which was carried out outside of the Kabul airport as U.S. forces were preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan — was a “complex” attack carried out by two suicide bombers and Islamic State terror group gunmen who opened fire on U.S. forces and civilians.

The review found that was not the case.

Investigators found it was “a single explosive device” that “killed at least 170 Afghan civilians and 13 U.S. service members,” McKenzie said. The explosion sent “ball bearings through a packed crowd and into our men and women” guarding Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

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The explosive was laced with ball bearings that ripped through the packed area, McKenzie said. All of the U.S. troops in the area were wearing body armor and helmets “that did stop ball bearings that impacted them but could not prevent catastrophic injuries to areas not covered,” the general said.

Forty-five service members were injured in the blast and 13 were killed — 11 Marines, one soldier and one sailor.

Investigators said the blast was the work of as single ISIS terrorist who was dressed in black and outfitted with an improvised explosive device that had an estimated 20 pounds of explosives.

The force of the ball bearings were so severe they appeared to be gunshot wounds, McKenzie said, but video and eyewitness reports and findings from military and civilian medical examiners found none of the dead or injured had been shot.

“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,” McKenzie said.

Investigators said they found the U.S. response was quick and efficient, and all service members who could have been saved were saved.

McKenzie said he found the review to be “comprehensive, credible, and definitive.” 

“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,” he said. “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.”  

Courtney Kube and Mosheh Gains contributed.

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