Tristan Hirsch, 24, was a Marine stationed at the Kabul airport during last year’s rushed U.S. military withdrawal. He was positioned at the Abbey Gate when the suicide bomber detonated his explosives, killing thirteen U.S. servicemen and over 200 Afghans.
Hirsch was fortunate enough to survive the deadly blast, but suffered a traumatic brain injury. He has now left the military, which has granted him the ability to discuss the details of the devastating attack, giving his personal account of the events.
In an interview with Chico Enterprise-Record, Hirsch revealed a shocking detail: they knew about the suicide bomber two days prior to the attack.
“We know what he looked like,” Hirsch said. “The CIA let us know; he looked exactly as they’d described him.”
Hirsch elaborated, saying that the CIA told them that a man on a suicide mission would likely stand out from the crowd. The tens of thousands of the people at the gates of the airport were desperately trying to escape Kabul and be spared death at the hands of the Taliban. They had been waiting at the airport for days, they were dirty, hungry, and disheveled. The bomber, they were told, would appear freshly showered with a well-trimmed beard.
While Hirsch admitted he never personally saw the bomber, others working at the gate spotted their suspect “the day prior and during the day,” Hirsch said. “He’d show up and leave.”
The Marines stationed at the gate saw the suicide bomber and had the opportunity to take him out before he could kill those around him.
“A friend of mine who was a sniper racked back his rifle and was ready to kill the guy,” said Hirsch. “We asked for permission and the reply was, “let me get a military judge to see if it’s legal.”
Hirsch added that “the battalion commander at the time was very concerned about his job.”
Tragically, the approval to take action didn’t arrive in time, and, at 5:36 pm on August 26, 2021, the suicide bomber was able to detonate his explosive belt, killing over 200 people and permanently wounding many others.
The retired Marine also revealed that they had received intel from the CIA about a second suicide bomber, however, Hirsch said “he didn’t get a chance to detonate. I think the first one that went off killed him.”
Hirsch described the moments during and after the blast, saying, “I remember getting hit by the blast, sitting there and I was looking at it. My normal job was as 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 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.
It didn’t take long for Hirsch to come to the harsh realization that the explosion’s impact was “a lot worse” than he thought it was.
Aside from the blast, Hirsch reported on the additional horrors inflicted on the Afghan people by the Taliban.
“Our job was to find somehow certain passports and what’s legitimate and what’s a green card,” said Hirsch. “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 desperation was the worst. Seeing pure human evil – not even from the Taliban but from actual Afghan nationals that were trying to leave.
It was desperation I’ve never heard of or seen. Guys would come up to you and just ask you to kill them because they didn’t want to be captured by the Taliban. They’d rather be killed by an American.”
Hirsch recalled being able to see Afghans being shot dead by the Taliban.
“The worst thing I think we had to do was turn people away,” said Hirsch. “You turn them away, and you would just hear the execution shots 10 minutes later.”
“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.”