Thursday was “an excruciating day” for California carpenter Steve Nikoui. He knew his son Kareem, a young U.S. Marine, was stationed at the Kabul airport. But when he heard there had been a bombing there, he had no idea if Kareem was alive or dead.
“I stayed home from work yesterday because there was that attack and I knew he was there,” Nikoui told The Daily Beast early Friday morning. “So all day, I was glued to the TV.”
Just hours after the U.S. military warned of an imminent terror threat, a suicide bombing rocked Hamid Karzai International Airport and the surrounding area. At least 13 U.S. service members were killed, and another 18 were wounded. Scores of Afghans also died in the terror attack.
Military officials have not released the names of the slain troops but said they included 10 Marines, two soldiers, and one Navy corpsman.
Steve Nikoui said he knew the Marines contacted the families of anyone killed in action “within eight hours.” Right about 7:15 p.m. PT, “these young men walked up,” he said.
They first appeared on Nikoui’s phone, which was linked to his doorbell camera, he explained. He had been watching the news for any word of his son or his comrades, and wanted to make sure he intercepted any bad news before his wife and other son got home and saw a clutch of Marines standing there.
The Marines who came to deliver the news of Kareem’s death 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. “I’m still in shock. I haven’t been able to grasp everything that’s going on.” As of right now, Nikoui’s plan is to go to Dover, Delaware, and pick up his son’s remains.
Kareem “loved what he was doing, he always wanted to be a Marine,” said Nikoui, noting that his son had been stationed close to home, at Camp Pendleton. This made it easy for Kareem to visit on weekends, and he often brought along “10 or 15 other Marines” with him. When the holidays rolled around, Kareem always brought a few buddies with him for a home-cooked meal, according to Nikoui.
“My wife and I felt very honored that [since] these other boys weren’t around their homes, that we were able to provide some sort of family life for them,” he said. “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.”
Through tears, Nikoui expressed flashes of anger along with his anguish. He said he wants to “respect the office” of the president, but doesn’t have much love for President Joe Biden at the moment. A Trump supporter, Nikoui was happy that Trump was in office when Kareem joined the Marines. “I really believed this guy didn’t want to send people into harm’s way,” he said.
“They sent my son over there as a paper pusher and then had the Taliban outside providing security,” said Nikoui. “I blame my own military leaders… Biden turned his back on him. That’s it.”
Ryan Knauss’ family learned early Friday morning that the 23-year-old U.S. Army staff sergeant had been killed in action in Afghanistan, according to the young man’s paternal grandmother.
The news came as “quite a shock,” Evelena Knauss told The Daily Beast. “We were led to think that it was 12 Marines and one Navy, and we knew our grandson was in the Army. So we were praying for the families of the Marines, not knowing our grandson was one of the ones who lost his life... You just don’t think it will be yours, I’m sure that you’ve heard that before.”
Knauss, who grew up in Tennessee, joined the Army right out of high school, and had already served one nine-month tour in Afghanistan, his grandmother explained.
“And then he was deployed back on this mission,” she said. “He had just completed a course of psychological operations... Making quite impressive steps in the military. Very bright and very committed. Driven... Young.”
“It’s been a very sad day for us. It shouldn’t have had to happen this way.”
Maxton Soviak, a U.S. Navy corpsman from Berlin Heights, Ohio, also died in the attack Thursday, the Sandusky Registrar reported.
Soviak was a 2017 graduate of Edison High School, where he played football, according to The Telegraph, before eventually moving to Guam.
A self-described “patriot” on Instagram, Soviak’s feed often featured him enjoying the outdoors—on boats, beaches, and mountains. He was also proud of his military service, posting photos with his fellow servicemen and commenting on photos of his friends.
The Navy confirmed a sailor died in the bombing, but would not confirm Soviak’s name until 24 hours after the family was first notified.
“My beautiful, intelligent, beat-to-the-sound of his own drum, annoying, charming baby brother was killed yesterday helping to save lives,” Marilyn Soviak, his sister, wrote on Instagram. “He was a fucking medic. there to help people. and now he is gone and my family will never be the same.”
— With additional reporting by Corbin Bolies