U.S. Navy Major Ben Sutphen was just 15 meters away when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb last month near an entrance toin Kabul.
The Marines warned of an attack and had a physical description of the suspected bomber, but in the love of humanity outside the airport, they could not detect him. The explosion killedand over 100 Afghans and injured at least 15 U.S. service members, including Sutphen.
“We took down a truck with a loudspeaker to try to disperse the crowd. I was standing right next to that truck when it happened,” Sutphen said.
“Did the truck protect you?” asked CBS News David Martin.
“I would say so,” Sutphen replied.
After the suicide bomber blew up his vest, armed men opened fire from a nearby roof. Sutphen described the actions of a Marine corporal.
“He has blown off his feet and still has sense over him. Shot through the shoulder. Recovers his weapon immediately and puts down the opposing gunmen,” he said.
“If they had just opened fire without you firing back, what would have happened?” Martin asked.
“Undoubtedly, many more marine and civilian lives had been lost,” Sutphen replied.
Sutphen said that “another corporal with significant explosive damage to his lungs and internal organs” still had “enough courage and bravery, at the risk of his own life to pull another injured navy from injury.”
The attack occurred about 300 meters fromone of the main entrances to the airport. The Marines had set up a corridor between Abbey Gate and the Baron Hotel, where British troops were located. On the day of the attack, Abbey Gate was the only way into the airport.
“The other two gates had been closed for a while, so what happened is all, it looked like the city was converging on Abbey Gate,” Sutphen said.
Despite intelligence warnings of an imminent attack by the terrorist group known as ISIS-K, Abbey Gate remained open so that British troops at the hotel could return to the airport.
“On the day of the attack, we had probably received the most direct indications of a threat at Abbey Gate and an individual to watch out for, so we made sure that information was sent to our Marines and Marines on the spot,” Sutphen recalled.
“How difficult would it be to choose a person like you, as you have the description of,” Martin asked.
“I would say almost impossible in thousands of people, tightly packed, shoulder to shoulder breast to breast. I mean, this was a very dense audience,” Sutphen replied.
Sutphen, who was the operator of his battalion, said the Marines took all possible precautions.
“Armed air surveillance overhead at the time. We had electronic countermeasures for improvised explosive devices along the entire corridor that would try to eliminate all, you know, electronically triggered devices,” he said.
But the suicide bomber was not detected, and the massacre was terrible. An estimated 170 Afghan civilians were killed. The airport went into mourning when the dead Americans were sent home with honor. Sutphen said not much could have been done to change the situation.
“I’m sure you asked yourself this. In retrospect, what would you have done differently?” Martin asked.
“The mission was. We must keep the road open. There was not much we could change in that situation. That was the assignment, and we carried it out, he says.
The mission would be the last for the Marines. Abbey Gate was scheduled to close that evening, and the Marines in Suthpen’s Battalion would return to the airport and board aircraft for the flight out.