SAN DIEGO — At least thirteen U.S. service members were killed in the attack by the Islamic State terror group outside Kabul’s airport where Americans and allies were being evacuated from Afghanistan.
The ISIS-K, known as Islamic State Khorasan, claimed responsibility for the “martyrdom attack” on Thursday that involved a suicide bomber who detonated an explosive belt at the airport’s gate.
ISIS gunmen also opened fire on servicemen and civilians, according to Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the head of U.S. Central Command. Among the dead were 11 U.S. Marines, many based at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego. Eighteen service members were injured, officials said.
President Joe Biden said Thursday that the fallen service members were “standing guard at the airport” when they were killed.
“They are the spine of America, the best the country has to offer,” he said.
The Marines’ names were being withheld by the Pentagon until their families were notified, but some of the deceased were identified by relatives and political leaders.
NBC News has verified the identities of some of the service members killed.
David Lee Espinosa
Espinoza, 20, was a Marine from Laredo, Texas. The city said on Facebook Friday: “Your acts of courage and bravery will always be remembered in our community.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted that he ordered state flags be lowered to half-staff. “These heroes should never be forgotten,” he said.
NBC affiliate KGNS of Laredo said that although Espinoza was born in the city, he grew up in Rio Bravo.
Darin Taylor Hoover
Hoover was a U.S. Marines staff sergeant from Utah. His father told NBC affiliate KSL of Salt Lake City that he is proud of his son for doing a tough job with honor. His uncle Jeremy Soto told the station Hoover had spent his adult life as a Marine.
“He is a hero,” Soto said.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in a statement: “Staff Sgt. Hoover served valiantly as a Marine and died serving his fellow countrymen as well as America’s allies in Afghanistan. We honor his tremendous bravery and commitment to his country, even as we condemn the senseless violence that resulted in his death.”
U.S. Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, said in a statement: “We will be forever grateful for his sacrifice and his legacy. He spent his last moments serving our state and our nation, and we will never forget his unwavering devotion.”
Knauss, 23, was from east Tennessee, according to NBC affiliate WBIR of Knoxville. A family member said he had just finished psychological operations training and was hoping to serve in Washington, D.C.
U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tennessee, tweeted, “Ryan Knauss gave his life outside Hamid Karzai International Airport helping people he didn’t know get to safety. This is what true heroism looks like.”
McCollum, a U.S. Marine, was identified by Wyoming’s state education Superintendent Jillian Balow as a 2019 graduate of Jackson Hole High School.
“My arms are wrapped around Rylee’s loved ones from afar and I pray they find some comfort,” Balow said in a statement.
Gov. Mark Gordon, tweeted, “I’m devastated to learn Wyoming lost one of our own in yesterday’s terrorist attack in Kabul.
McCollum’s Facebook profile said he lived in Oceanside, California, next to Camp Pendleton.
A woman who identified herself as his sister said on Facebook that he was deployed to Afghanistan to assist with the evacuation of Americans and allies from the country.
The city of Norco, California, identified U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kareem Mae’Lee Grant Nikoui, who was based at Camp Pendleton.
The city said in a statement that Nikoui, who was part of the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Norco High School, “was committed to serving his country and is survived by his mother, father and siblings.”
The sheriff’s association in Riverside, California, that represents rank-and-file members of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, said in a statement that Lopez was the son of sheriff’s Capt. Herman Lopez and Deputy Alicia Lopez. They identified him as a U.S. Marine Corps corporal.
“Hunter was the victim of vicious evil and was killed because he wore a United States Marine uniform with love and pride,” the union said in a statement.
Sheriff Chad Bianco said, “I am unbelievably saddened and heartbroken for the Lopez family as they grieve over the loss of their American Hero.”
Lance Cpl. Schmitz was from Wentzville, Missouri, according to Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri. ” I promised his family that his service and his legacy will not be forgotten,” he tweeted Friday.
State Rep. Nick Schroer called him “a true American hero” in a Facebook post.
Schmitz’s father told a St. Louis-area radio station that his son was one of the service members called back to Afghanistan to assist with the pullout.
Romero reported from San Diego and Gains from Washington, D.C.
Rima Abdelkader contributed.