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Kabul airport bomber was an ISIS operative freed from prison by the Taliban

A new U.S. military review identified the bomber for the first time and found that the 2021 deadly attack was not preventable.
The bombing area at Abbey Gate, before the blast occurred
The bombing area at Abbey Gate outside the Kabul airport, before the blast occurred, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 26, 2021.U.S. Central Command / AP file

The man who detonated a bomb outside the Kabul airport in August 2021, killing 170 Afghans and 13 American service members, was an Islamic State operative who had been held in a coalition detention facility in Afghanistan but was freed by the Taliban, according to a new U.S. military review that has identified him for the first time.

Some service members who were at the airport that day claimed they had spotted the suicide bomber at the site and were ordered not to engage. But the review found that those service members had the wrong man in their sights, and the strike was not preventable.

“There was no opportunity to engage the bomber prior to the attack,” said a senior U.S. military official, who was involved in the supplemental review.

The bombing at Abbey Gate took place during the U.S. military’s chaotic exit from Afghanistan. Thousands of people had converged on the airport in a desperate effort to flee after the Taliban’s swift takeover of the country.

An initial Pentagon review released in February 2022 found that the attack was carried out by a lone suicide bomber and that it was not preventable. Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command, ordered the supplemental review last year after witnesses of the attack came forward with new information and allegations that they could have stopped it but were denied the chance to do so.

One of the most vocal witnesses was retired Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, who lost an arm and a leg in the attack, and suffered damage to internal organs that resulted in roughly 50 surgeries. 

In testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March 2023, Vargas-Andrews said the Marines and others involved in the evacuation were given descriptions of men believed to be plotting an attack. Vargas-Andrews said he and others spotted a man who fit the description — a person who came to be known as “bald man in black.”

But the review — which included interviews with more than 50 service members directly involved in the evacuation, including a dozen who had not previously been interviewed — found that this man had no connection to the attack.

Abdul Rahman al-Logari.
Abdul Rahman al-Logari detonated a bomb outside the Kabul airport in August 2021, killing 170 Afghans and 13 American service members.U.S. Central Command

The actual bomber was Abdul Rahman al-Logari, according to the U.S. military. A facial comparison analysis determined that al-Logari and the bald man in black could not be the same person, the review found. 

The team of military investigators reviewed photos and video taken of the scene before the attack and found no footage of al-Logari. He was determined to have arrived immediately before the blast and blended in with the massive crowd gathered outside the airport. 

The officials involved in the review said that given the density of the crowd, the U.S. military members at the scene did not have time to identify him.

A day after the attack, ISIS-K, an Islamic State offshoot based in Afghanistan, identified al-Logari as the bomber. The new review marks the first time U.S. officials have said they have independent confirmation. 

Al-Logari was among the thousands of militants released from Afghan prisons after the Taliban seized control of Kabul in mid-August 2021. But the officials involved in the review said U.S. intelligence determined that even if al-Logari had not been released from prison, the attack would likely have still been carried out because ISIS-K had other bombers ready and available.