Kareem Nikoui, a young Marine from California, was identified as one of the 13 fallen U.S. Marines and service members who were killed in a bomb attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, on August 26, 2021.
Nikoui’s father, Steve, a California carpenter, had some choice words for U.S. military leaders and President Joe Biden in an interview with the Daily Beast.
A Trump supporter, the father expressed anger toward President Biden, telling Daily Beast, “They sent my son over there as a paper pusher and then had the Taliban outside providing security. I blame my own military leaders… Biden turned his back on him. That’s it.”
He remembered his son as a “devoted” young man who considered the U.S. Marines like a family.
Read a roundup of tributes and photos of all of the American service members who died here.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Nikoui’s Father Described the Heartbreaking Scene When Marines Walked to His Door
Nikoui’s father, Steve, told Daily Beast, “I stayed home from work yesterday because there was that attack and I knew he was there. So all day, I was glued to the TV.” He knew it would take about eight hours to tell him if his son was among the dead, and horribly, around 7:15 p.m. PT, “these young men walked up,” he said.
He told Daily Beast, those Marines were “more choked up than me,” Nikoui said. “I was actually trying to console them. But at the same time, I just wanted them to get out as soon as possible so that no one from my family came back and saw them. I thought it appropriate that I be able to tell them.”
“I haven’t gone to bed all night,” Nikoui continued to the publication. “I’m still in shock. I haven’t been able to grasp everything that’s going on.”
Nikoui told the Daily Beast he was happy when Donald Trump was president: “I really believed this guy didn’t want to send people into harm’s way,” he said of Trump.
2. Kareem ‘Always Wanted to Be a Marine,’ His Dad Says
Kareem “loved what he was doing, he always wanted to be a Marine,” said Nikoui to Daily Beast. He was initially stationed at Camp Pendleton and often brought fellow Marines home for the holidays.
“He really loved that [Marine Corps] family. He was devoted—he was going to make a career out of this, and he wanted to go. No hesitation for him to be called to duty,” the father said.
Initial reports were that four Marines had died in the blast at the airport, but the number quickly grew to 10 service members, in addition to significant casualties among Afghan citizens. Then it rose to 12, a death toll confirmed by U.S. General Kenneth McKenzie in a press conference. Finally, grimly, it became 13.
3. The Other Service Members Who Died Are Also Being Remembered for Their Heroism
You can see a roundup of the other service members who died here.
The others named so far are Rylee McCollum (Wyoming); David Lee Espinoza (Texas); Jared Schmitz (Missouri); Max Soviak (Ohio); Ryan Knauss (Tennessee); Taylor Hoover (Utah); Daegan Page (Nebraska); Humberto Sanchez (Indiana) and Hunter Lopez (California).
President Biden said in a news conference that the dead service members were “standing guard at the airport…These American service members who gave their lives are… heroes.. engaged in the selfless mission to save the lives of others.”
Biden said, “We will not be deterred by terrorists… we will continue the evacuation.” He said that ISIS-K leadership and facilities will be attacked. More than 100,000 people were “taken to safety in the last 11 days. In the last 12 hours or so, another 7,000 have gotten out,” he said. “These ISIS terrorists will not win. We will rescue the Americans who are there…America will not be intimidated.”
He called those who died “part of the bravest, most capable and selfless military on the face of the earth.. the backbone of America, the spine of America, the best the country has to offer. Jill and I, our hearts ache for all those Afghan families who lost loved ones, including small children, in this vicious attack. We’re outraged.”
Biden brought up his deceased son Beau, who served in Iraq, saying, Beau Biden “was diagnosed with an aggressive and lethal cancer of the brain. We have some sense like many of you do what the families of these brave heroes are feeling today. Feeling like you’re being sucked into a black hole in the middle of your chest. There’s no way out. My heart aches for you.”
He continued, “We have a continued obligation, a sacred obligation to all of you, the families of those heroes. The obligation is not temporary, it lasts for ever. They were lives given in the service of liberty, in security, in the service of others, in the service of America.”
4. Tributes Flowed for Nikoui on Social Media
A woman wrote on Facebook, “We lost a member of our Norco family yesterday. My friends grandson was one of the Marines killed in Kabul…Kareem Nikoui you are our hero and a hero to so many you were helping. Godspeed Marine! We thank you for your ultimate sacrifice and we will not forget you.”
The deaths come the day after the U.S. Embassy warned stranded Americans not to go to the Hamid Karzai International Airport because of threats from ISIS, the Wall Street Journal reported the day before the attacks tore through the city.
“U.S. citizens who are at the Abbey Gate, East Gate, or North Gate now should leave immediately,” the alert said, according to the Journal. “Officials have been warning that members of the Afghan branch of the Islamic State extremist group were trying to mount an attack on military personnel or civilians at the airport.”
“We are still investigating the exact circumstances. The attack occurred at a gate. At the gate we have to check people before they get onto the airfield. We have to make sure they aren’t carrying a bomb,” said General Kenneth McKenzie, speaking in a news conference.
That required physical screening, he said.
In a news conference, McKenzie said that officials believe there are a little more than 1,000 US citizens still in Afghanistan. He said that “not everybody wants to leave…yesterday we brought in over 500 American citizens.”
There are unusual challenges and competing demands, he said. “Threat to our forces from ISIS=K is very real as we have seen today,” the general said. He said over 104,000 people have been screened.
He said the threat from ISIS “is extremely real. We’ve been talking about this for several days… we believe it is their desire (ISIS) to continue those attacks. We expect those attacks to continue.” The U.S. is reaching out to the Taliban, he said.
“We are continuing to bring people onto the airfield,” he said. “we will continue to process, to float people out…We will coordinate very carefully.”
He said there are additional imminent threat “strings,” including the threat of rocket attacks.
“Our mission remains. We are still committed to flowing people out…” McKenzie repeated.
If we can find “who is associated with this, we will go after them,” he said.
“We are working to determine attribution… we are prepared to take action. 24/7, we are looking for them.”
5. The House Minority Leader Labeled the Situation ‘Horrific’
Political criticism quickly erupted.
Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader, tweeted, “Horrific. Our enemies have taken advantage of the chaotic nature of Biden’s withdrawal. Speaker Pelosi must bring Congress back before Aug 31 so we can be briefed thoroughly by the Administration and prohibit the withdrawal of our troops until every American is safely out.”
According to CNN, officials said that the blasts in Kabul were “suicide” attacks. They believe they were perpetrated by the group called ISIS-K, but were still working to confirm that, CNN reported, adding that ISIS-K and the Taliban are “sworn enemies.” One took place outside the airport and the other near a hotel frequented by evacuees.
Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s son, was among strong criticism erupting against former President Joe Biden among conservatives. He wrote, “So are we talking about impeachment yet? Asking for a friend who was impeached for a phone call but definitely wouldn’t strand thousands of American Civilians behind terrorist enemy lines! #BidenDisaster.” Some on the left have criticized former President Donald Trump for making a peace deal with the Taliban.
He also retweeted a post from John Parnell, a combat veteran and Republican Senate candidate, who wrote, “All of the horror we are seeing right now in Afghanistan is on @JoeBiden. The panicked surrender. The absurdity of relying on the Taliban to help evac our people. The betrayal of our citizens & our allies. The tragic loss of life. Everything. It didn’t have to be this way.”