Sen. Tillis recounts suicide of ex-Marine over Afghan interpreter left behind

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) brought Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with top military brass to a standstill by recounting the story of a former Marine who took his own life after an Afghan interpreter he worked with was left behind following the evacuation of the war-torn nation last month.

Tillis told Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and US Central Command leader Gen. Kenneth McKenzie that while “some American citizens” and Afghan allies had managed to get out of the Taliban-controlled country, “we have a much longer list of people that we were not successful with getting out.

“Between SIV [Special Immigration Visa] holders and family members, my office alone has over 900 people still on a list of people who are still in Afghanistan,” Tillis added, “and we communicate with these people through WhatsApp. We were trying to shepherd them to [Hamid Karzai International Airport], then back and forth and ultimately operations were shut down and they were stranded and left behind.”

 									afghanistan								,  									marines								,  									military								,  									republicans								,  									senate								,  									suicide								,  									thom tillis								,  									veterans

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations, September 28, 2021. Patrick Semansky/Pool via REUTERS

Tillis began to ask Austin how the Defense Department could help rescue US allies remaining in Afghanistan and in hiding from the Taliban before stopping to tell of the fallen veteran.

 									afghanistan								,  									marines								,  									military								,  									republicans								,  									senate								,  									suicide								,  									thom tillis								,  									veterans

Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, commander of the United States Central Command, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley testify during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sept. 28, 2021.

Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times via AP, Pool

“We were working with a Marine who was trying to get an interpreter out, had been maintaining contact for years,” the senator recalled. “We had all the authenticating documentation. We weren’t successful in that case. That Marine committed suicide about three weeks ago, retired Marine. So this is having real-life consequences, not only in Afghanistan, but here in the United States.”

Before answering Tillis’ question, Austin gave the senator “my deepest condolences on the loss of our Marine. Really saddened to hear that. Thoughts and prayers to his family.”

A Tillis spokesperson told The Post that the Marine in question had served at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, but declined to provide further details out of respect for the deceased and his family.

“Our office received many calls from veterans and servicemembers asking for assistance to evacuate the interpreters they served alongside with,” the senator’s office said in a statement. “Many of them shared a deep friendship and emotional bond, and the withdrawal from Afghanistan was an incredibly difficult time for veterans and servicemembers as they saw their friends left behind, especially for those who were already bearing the invisible wounds of war.”

Pentagon officials have said that more than 120,000 people were flown out from Afghanistan before the withdrawal ended Aug. 30. However, critics have noted that by the Biden administration’s own admission, hundreds of American citizens and green card holders who wished to leave the country were not able to do so.

In addition, thousands of Afghans who aided US-led NATO forces during the 20-year war against the Taliban are believed to be stranded in hostile territory with little hope of help.

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