A terrorist attack outside the Kabul airport on Thursday killed 13 U.S. service members and over 170 Afghans, according to U.S. and Afghan officials.
The big picture: The blast led to the first U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan in over a year, and marks the deadliest incident there in a decade, per Reuters.
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ISIS-K, the terrorist group’s affiliate in Afghanistan, has claimed responsibility for the attack.
"The 13 service members that we lost were heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of our highest American ideals and while saving the lives of others," President Biden said in a statement on Saturday. "Their bravery and selflessness has enabled more than 117,000 people at risk to reach safety thus far."
The remains of the 13 service members are on their way back to the U.S., Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said Saturday during a press briefing.
Marine Lance Cpl. David L. Espinoza: Espinoza dreamed of becoming a Marine to help others, his mother told the Post.
“It was his calling and he died a hero,” Elizabeth Holguin said.
Marine Sgt. Nicole L. Gee: She worked as a maintenance technician with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, according to Stars and Stripes. Days before the attack, Gee posted a picture of herself in Afghanistan holding a child. The caption read: "I love my job."
“I can’t even begin to fathom that you’re gone, or come up with the words to express my grief over losing you,” Gee’s cousin, Steffani Moody, wrote on Facebook according to a Fox affiliate.
Army Staff Sgt. Darin T. Hoover: Hoover graduated high school in 2008. His father, Darin Hoover, remembered him as a "true hero," according to the Post.
"He’s a true hero. And did what he loved doing, serving the United States," Hoover's father said.
Marine Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Knauss: The Tennessee native was on his second deployment to Afghanistan, per USA Today. He had previously served a nine-month deployment.
"Ryan was the embodiment of an Army Special Operations Forces soldier, a testament to the professionalism of the non-commissioned officer corps, and a steadfast husband and teammate. His loss is devastating to our formation and Army family," Col. Jeremy Mushtare said on Saturday.
Marine Cpl. Hunter Lopez: His family worked in law enforcement, and Lopez hoped he would join them as a sheriff's deputy following his deployment, the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said.
"Like his parents who serve our community, being a Marine to Hunter wasn’t a job; it was a calling," the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association said.
Marine Lance Cpl. Rylee J. McCollum: McCollum was reportedly stationed at a checkpoint when the bomb exploded, his sister told the Billings Gazette. His wife is expected to deliver their baby in three weeks.
"Rylee will always be a hero not just for the ultimate sacrifice he made for our country, but for the way he impacted every life around him for the better. Making us stronger, kinder, teaching us to love deeper," his sister, Royce McCallum, said.
Marine Lance Cpl. Dylan R. Merola: Merola, 20, had only been in Afghanistan for a little over a week when he was killed in Thursday's blast, according to a CBS affiliate.
"One of the best kids ever,” his mother Cheryl Merola said. “Kind, loving… he would give anything for anybody.”
Marine Lance Cpl. Kareem M. Nikoui: He was stationed at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. His father, Steve Nikoui, said Kareem Nikoui would often bring a group of Marines over for a home-cooked meal, per the Washington Post.
"I’m still in shock. I haven’t been able to grasp everything that’s going on,” Nikoui's told the Daily Beast. “He was born the same year it started, and ended his life with the end of this war."
Marine Cpl. Daegan W. Page: After serving in the Marines, Page was planned to go back to return home to California to attend trade school, his family said.
"Daegan will always be remembered for his tough outer shell and giant heart,” his family said in a statement to a local ABC affiliate.
Marine Sgt. Johanny Rosariopichardo: The Lawrence, Massachusetts, native was a criminal justice major at Bridgewater State University before enrolling in the Marines. Rosariopichardo, who also goes by the surname Rosario, was a member of the 5th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Naval Support Activity in Bahrain.
"Her humanitarian efforts on the frontlines alongside her fellow Marines speak to that commitment. She and they truly represent the best among us,” the university said in a statement to an ABC affiliate.
Marine Lance Cpl. Jared M. Schmitz: Afghanistan was the Missouri native's first deployment, according to a Fox affiliate. His father told the radio station that Schmitz, 20, always wanted to be a soldier.
"His life meant so much more. I’m so incredibly devastated that I won’t be able to see the man that he was very quickly growing into becoming," Mark Schmitz said.
Marine Cpl. Humberto A. Sanchez: The Logansport, Indiana, native graduated from Logansport High School in 2017, according to the local paper.
"Any plans he may have had for his post-military life were given in sacrifice due to the heart he exhibited in putting himself into harm’s way to safeguard the lives of others," Mayor Chris Martin said on Friday.
Navy Hospitalman Maxton W. Soviak: Soviak hoped to make a career in the Navy, according to his family.
"Max was a wonderful son who loved his family, his community, and was proud to serve in the U.S. Navy. He was excited about the opportunities the Navy would offer him," the family said in a statement to a local Fox affiliate. "We are incredibly proud of his service to our country."
Editor's note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to service members as soldiers.
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