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At least 2 Marines killed in the Kabul airport bombing attack came from Camp Pendleton

At least two Camp Pendleton Marines are among 13 service members killed in two suicide bomb attacks Thursday, Aug. 26, on crowds struggling to get through to the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan as thousands of desperate people were fleeing the Taliban before the planned withdrawal of the United States on Aug.31.

The Marines were part of a special crisis response team sent to provide security and help State Department officials process hundreds of people at the gates of the Hamid Karzai International Airport. They had been on deployment to the Middle East where they were training with Syrian and Iraq troops and other U.S. partners before they were pulled in to secure the airport.

A Navy medic and one Army soldier were also killed in the attacks, Pentagon officials confirmed. Eighteen other wounded service members were evacuated from Afghanistan on specially equipped C-17s that have surgical units on board. The injured are now in the hospital at a military facility in Germany.

About 180 Afghans were killed in the two explosions.

Pentagon officials confirmed the bombing as the single deadliest enemy strike against U.S. forces in Afghanistan since August 2011, when militants shot down a Chinook helicopter, killing 30 U.S. troops on board.

The attacks, blamed on Afghanistan’s offshoot of the Islamic State group – an enemy of both the Taliban and the U.S. – represent one of the deadliest days in the two-decade war, Pentagon officials said Friday during a briefing.

Military officials have not released the names of the those who died, but among those in media reports who were from Southern California is Lance Cpl. Kareem Nikoui, of Norco. He was a graduate of Norco High, Class of 2019, where he had been active in the Air Force JROTC program.

“Kareem loved what he was doing, he always wanted to be a Marine,” Steve Nikoui, the Marine’s father, told the Daily Beast.

Another Southern California Marine was Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, who was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines at Camp Pendleton.

Lopez, a resident of the Coachella Valley, was the son of Riverside County deputy sheriff and Riverside Sheriff’s Association Board Secretary Alicia Lopez and Riverside County Sheriffs’ Capt. Herman Lopez, the chief of the La Quinta Police Department, according to a statement issued by the union Friday, Aug. 27.

“Before joining the Marine Corps, Hunter proudly served in our Sheriff’s Explorer Program,” Sheriff Chad Bianco said in a statement. “Our entire department is mourning this tragic loss. The Lopez family exemplifies the meaning of Service Above Self.”

Also killed was Navy Corpsman Max Soviak, of Berlin Heights, Ohio. In high school he played football, track, wrestling and tennis and was in the school band, according to Thomas Roth, superintendent of Edison Local School District.

In a post on Instagram, his sister, Marilyn Soviak, said: “My beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother was killed yesterday helping to save lives and now he is gone and my family will never be the same.

“There is a large Maxton-sized hole that will never be filled. He was just a kid. We are sending kids over there to die,” she said. “Kids with families that now have holes just like ours. I’m not one for praying, but damn could those kids over there use some right now. My heart is in pieces and I don’t think they’ll ever fit back right again.”

Rylee McCollum, of Wyoming, was another Marine who was killed according to a statement from Gov. Mark Gordon.

“I’m devastated to learn Wyoming lost one of our own in yesterday’s terrorist attack in Kabul,” he said.

McCollum graduated from Jackson Hole High School in 2019, according to a statement from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. The Teton County School District said McCollum was also a graduate of Summit Innovations School in Jackson.

David Lee Espinoza, 20, was also recognized in a tribute by the city of Laredo, Texas. City officials expressed their heartfelt condolences in a statement: “Thank you for your service to the United States of America and Laredo. Your acts of courage and bravery will always be remembered in our community.”

About 50 members from Camp Pendleton units were the first Marines to arrive at the Kabul airport to secure the perimeter.  About 1,200 from the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines and Combat Logistics Battalion 24 from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina deployed from nearby Navy ships. They were followed by Marines and sailors with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines and elements of Combat Logistics Regiment 1, both based at Camp Pendleton.

Since Aug. 14, the Marines have helped with the evacuations and provided water and food and even entertaining young Afghan children as they waited to get on planes. Pentagon officials confirmed Friday that more than 180,000 people have been evacuated. They also said they are on high alert for additional terrorist attacks.

“It is with extremely heavy hearts that we learned several Marines and other service members were killed and wounded in the Kabul attacks today,” Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger said in a statement Thursday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the families as they are notified of this devastating loss.

“These fallen heroes answered the call to go into harm’s way to do the honorable work of helping others. We are proud of their service and deeply saddened by their loss,” he said.  “As we mourn, we also keep those who are still over there protecting Americans and our Afghan partners at the forefront of our thoughts.  Our Marines will continue the mission, carrying on our Corps’ legacy of always standing ready to meet the challenges of every extraordinary task our Nation requires of her Marines.”

Source: Orange County Register

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