Republicans promise a deeper investigation if they take over the House.
In a new report, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee detailed the State Department and White House’s alleged missteps and misleading claims about the Afghanistan pullout and vowed to investigate on whether the GOP regains the House in November.
After 20 years of fighting the Taliban terrorist group in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden decided at the start of his presidency to proceed with a complete withdrawal of American troops from the region.
Despite pleas from both sides to extend the time window for withdrawal, Biden — who critics say was desperate to leave the country before the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — pushed ahead anyway. As the United States withdrew, Taliban forces swept across the country, prompting harassed and in some cases deadly efforts by Afghans to flee the country.
In the chaos, many Americans were also left behind.
The scenes at Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul, where most of the evacuation efforts have taken place, have taken a big toll on Biden’s popularity with voters.
According to Rasmussen’s Daily Presidential Tracking Poll, Biden’s popularity began to decline more noticeably just as Afghanistan’s downfall was underway, and it hasn’t returned to pre-removal levels in the year since withdrawal.
Now, Republicans led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, have released a report alleging that a series of missteps and miscalculations by the Biden administration and the State Department are responsible for the fallout from this withdrawal.
“Choices made in the halls of power in DC have led to tragic but preventable results: 13 servicemen dead, American lives still at great risk, increased threats to the security of our homeland, a tarnished reputation abroad for years to come and emboldened enemies across the globe,” the roughly 120-page GOP report reads.
Biden ignored recommendations from advisers and allies
In the report, Republicans said the problem was partly attributable to Biden’s refusal to take the advice of senior officials and foreign allies, who have called for a continued but limited U.S. presence on the ground.
Republicans said the reasons Biden gave for the withdrawal were “not accurate” – a fact they said Biden was likely aware of when he presented them to the American public.
The Republicans wrote: “In his speech announcing the unconditional withdrawal of the United States from Afghanistan, President Biden said the decision was based on many factors, including: consultations and advice from our allies and senior advisers US military; A withdrawal was the only option if we did not want to go back to war with the Taliban; Afghan forces were able to defend their country without any direct US military support; The 2020 Doha agreement negotiated by the Trump administration forced the withdrawal; and the American mission to kill Osama bin Laden and eradicate al-Qaeda had been accomplished.
“However, the minority of the Committee now believe that none of these assertions were accurate,” the report said. “And even worse, President Biden was likely aware they weren’t accurate when he presented his case to the American people in April 2021.”
Instead, they pointed to evidence and testimony showing that US military officials and international allies have called for a continued presence in the region.
“There is ample evidence, including direct testimony from US military leaders and senior NATO allies, that they supported continued deployment based on conditions in Afghanistan. They believed the best option was to keep in place an advisory and counterterrorism mission made up of 2,500 US military personnel and 6,000 troops, mostly NATO forces.
More than 800 Americans rescued since
The House GOP report says more than 800 Americans have been rescued from the country since the Taliban takeover, a substantial increase from a previous Senate GOP report that said 479 Americans had been rescued as of Dec. 14, 2021 ( pdf).
That means more than 300 Americans have been deported from the country in the past eight months alone — a figure three times higher than the number of State Department and Biden officials they say were still trapped in the country immediately after the fall of Kabul.
As it became increasingly clear in late summer 2021 that the nation was on the verge of falling to the Taliban, Biden and his State Department officials initially vowed that despite evidence from the otherwise, the American presence in the nation would not end until every American citizen who wanted to leave the country was out, the report said.
“We’re going to stay to get them all out,” was a common White House refrain at the time.
But after the withdrawal, Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted that at least 100 Americans remained in the country. According to the sharp increase in evacuations since the Senate GOP report, this figure was a serious underestimate on the part of the State Department.
Republicans refused information, pledge inquiries
In its own memo to the report, the White House said the report was “riddled with inaccurate characterizations, hand-picked information, and false allegations.” Republicans noted in the report itself that much of their investigative ability was hampered by the State Department’s refusal to provide them with requested documents and data.
“Try to receive requested documents and transcribed interview requests with key decision makers and the [noncombatant evacuation operation] were ignored by the State Department. And to date, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has held only one full, public hearing with a senior Biden administration official on the withdrawal from Afghanistan,” the report said.
In summary, Republicans said, “The Biden administration has largely wasted the four months since the President announced the full withdrawal, failing to sufficiently plan for the anticipated Taliban takeover.
“The inability to anticipate an influx of refugees at Kabul airport…despite the army’s assessment that Kabul was at risk of falling to the Taliban, combined with an insufficient number of US personnel initially deployed, created the a powder keg that exploded with chaotic scenes that reverberated around the world, including images of Afghans falling to their deaths.
If they win the House in November’s midterm elections, Republicans have made it clear they will subpoena the State Department for documents and information they have been denied so far.
“The minority on the Committee believe that a much deeper examination is needed to find full answers on how this happened and how to ensure that something like this does not happen again,” the report said.
Complete failure to plan: McCaul
During an Aug. 14 appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” McCaul said the pullout was the result of a complete failure of planning.
“There was no plan,” he said. “Even before that, I think the State Department probably didn’t have the resources to do an evacuation of this size and magnitude. They had 36 consular officers in HKIA trying to process hundreds of thousands of people.
McCaul expressed frustration at having sided with Congress on the issue, saying it was made clear to him and other lawmakers that such a quick withdrawal would end in disaster. Despite pleas from Republicans and Democrats for Biden to reconsider, McCaul said, the White House persisted in painting “a very rosy picture” that didn’t match the facts on the ground.
McCaul said the White House asserted that “there is no way to evacuate embassy personnel from helicopters like we did from Vietnam,” noting that in fact, that is exactly what happened at the end of the withdrawal in Afghanistan.
“The intelligence community has understood. So there was no failure on the intelligence side, nor on the Pentagon. They called him well. The problem was that the White House and the State Department were sticking their heads in the sand, not wanting to believe what [the other agencies] were saying, and therefore no proper planning.
White House Refusal
In a memo responding to the report, the White House denied the charges brought against Biden by Republicans.
The memo, written by National Security Council spokeswoman and former Democratic National Committee member Adrienne Watson, claimed the GOP report was “partisan” and said it was “misled with inaccurate characterizations, hand-picked information and misrepresentations”.
The memo repeats an oft-quoted claim by Biden and his allies that the pullout was all but inevitable due to an agreement President Donald Trump signed during his final year in office promising a pullout.
“Former President Trump’s 2020 deal with the Taliban strengthened the Taliban, weakened our partners in the Afghan government, and committed to withdrawing our troops within months of President Biden’s inauguration, without a clear plan. for what should follow,” the memo reads.
Several Republican critics countered that the problem is not so much with the withdrawal itself, but with the execution of the withdrawal.
Watson also dismissed GOP claims that the pullout had weakened America on the world stage and emboldened the nation’s enemies, instead accusing Trump of damaging America’s reputation while in office. .