CAMP PENDLETON — The remains of nine Marines and one sailor based at Camp Pendleton were draped in American flags Sunday at Dover Air Force Base as President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden met with some of the fallen troops’ families.
The U.S. service members based in Camp Pendleton were among the 13 killed in a suicide bombing at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. They died supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel non-combative evacuations on Aug. 26 in Afghanistan.
Assigned to Camp Pendleton were: Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover, 31, of Salt Lake City, Utah; Cpl. Hunter Lopez, 22, of Indio; Cpl. Daegan W. Page, 23, of Omaha, Neb.; Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez, 22, of Logansport, Ind.; Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz, 20, of St. Charles, Mo.; Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza, 20, of Rio Bravo, Texas; Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum, 20, of Jackson, Wyo.; Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola, 20, of Rancho Cucamonga; and Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui. 20, of Norco. Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak, 22, of Berlin Heights, Ohio, also was assigned to Camp Pendleton.
The other three American military personnel who died in the bombing were Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss 23, of Corryton, Tenn. from Ft. Bragg; Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., from Naval Support Activity Bahrain; and Sgt. Nicole L. Gee, 23, of Sacramento, from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
Sunday, their remains arrived in Delaware on a C-17 plane that had traveled from Kabul to Qatar to Ramstein Air Base in Germany before its flight to Dover.
“These fallen heroes answered the call to go into harm’s way to do the honorable work of helping others,” said Gen. David H. Berger, commandant of the U.S. Marine Corp. “We are proud of their service and deeply saddened by their loss.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom has ordered flags at all state buildings to be flown at half-staff in honor of all the soldiers.
Meanwhile, two more San Diego-area families that were trapped in the Kabul region of Afghanistan were evacuated from the country, a U.S. congressman said Friday.
“Amidst the heartbreak of yesterday and the chaos that has gripped Afghanistan for weeks, we continue to make extraordinary progress in bringing our people home,” Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Bonsall, said in a statement. “It is an honor to help rescue and reunite families and loved ones, but we still have more work to do.”
Issa said the two additional families evacuated Thursday night comprised seven people — three adults and four children. The latest families are among of six El Cajon-area families who have been extracted from Afghanistan. The first four evacuated included seven adults and 16 children.
“We believe that most of the 20 total children are enrolled in school within the Cajon Valley Union School District, although exact numbers are not known at this time,” according to a statement from Issa Representative Jon Wilcox.
Issa said, “This has been an around-the-clock operation, and individuals inside of government and outside of it deserve our deepest thanks. But more members of our community still need our help. The mission is to bring our people home, and we will continue to do it.”
Later in the day, Issa issued a statement saying, “We are actively working as of this hour to help more than a dozen members of our community unable to cross Taliban checkpoints or who are literally at the airport gates but cannot gain entry to safety. Those still in-country include children and seniors, and the situation grows more dire by the minute.”
San Diego County made national news this week as several dozen students and parents from East County were reported as trapped in Afghanistan after visiting extended family in the country this summer.
The 20 students and 14 parents — who make up five families — requested assistance from the U.S. government to fly home. According to David Miyashiro, the Cajon Valley Union School District superintendent, the children range in age from preschool to high school.
San Diego County Supervisor Joel Anderson wrote a letter to President Joe Biden on Thursday urging the State Department’s assistance in evacuating the families.
“San Diego County is home to the most refugees in California, and I represent the large Middle Eastern community in the eastern part of the county,” he wrote. “I have heard from my constituents their anguish over family members and loved ones currently trapped in Afghanistan.
“My constituents are rightfully concerned for the safety of these individuals and that they could be subjected to severe mistreatment, and potentially execution, by the Taliban now controlling that nation,” Anderson added.
The Taliban, which ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until the U.S. invasion toppled the regime in 2001, continue to consolidate their hold over the country. The Taliban has worked with Al-Qaeda — planners of the Sept. 11 attacks — in the past, but has clashed with the Islamic State militants and terrorists known better as ISIS, who differ on the level of Islamic Fundamentalist law and how it should be enforced — and how those who break that law should be punished.
The ISIS-Khorasan attack during a time of Taliban takeover could well lead to infighting and possibly even civil war amongst the militant Islamist groups as the U.S. continues its withdrawal from the country.
The tumult and chaos as the Taliban quickly took Kabul made it nearly impossible to secure a flight out of the country — and that was before Thursday’s bombing. The families could not reach the airport even though they had plane tickets, Cajon Valley School Board President Tamara Otero told the Los Angeles Times.
One additional family was able to secure passage out of the country earlier this week. Four students and two parents, along with one infant, returned home after stopping in another country, Miyashiro said.