Withdrawal from Afghanistan: House Republicans to release scathing report criticizing Biden a year later
The figure – which meant there was “approximately one consular officer for every 3,444 evacuees” – is one of many previously undisclosed details outlined in the highly critical report examining the chaotic US withdrawal last August.
“Many of the Biden administration’s evacuation plans were drawn up in the spring of 2021 – some even before the president announced the withdrawal. battle, despite the deteriorating security situation and despite revised intelligence assessments,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In the weeks and months that followed, bipartisan lawmakers urged the administration to ensure plans were in place to ensure the protection of Afghans working for the United States during the nearly two-decade conflict. including evacuation options.
Both the State Department and the Pentagon conducted their own reviews of the withdrawal, but neither department has released any findings. The Pentagon’s review is ongoing while the State Department concluded its own in March, according to a source familiar with the review. The delay in its publication is due, in part, to an inter-agency review process underpinned by concerns about policy, perspective and the effective implementation of lessons learned.
The House report found that it was not until mid-June 2021 that the U.S. Embassy in Kabul held an Operational Planning Team (OPT) meeting with members of the US military and US diplomats focused on pre-planning for non-combatant evacuation operations (NEO). The meeting was described by a US military officer involved as “the first time” the embassy had begun “to consider the possibility of a NEO”.
Due to the “complete lack of proper planning on the part of the Biden administration,” there were consequences: evacuation flights “were only taking off at about 50% capacity” five days after the start of the NEO, the report says. The report refers to the slow processing at the gates and the chaos outside the gates – a government evacuation process so chaotic and messy that even staffers of Vice President Kamala Harris and First Lady Jill Biden was contacting outside groups to try to get people out, representatives from the group told the committee.
Evacuation flights massively transported men
The report found that those who were able to get out on these evacuation flights were mostly men, despite concerns – which have now been confirmed – about the deprivation of liberty of women when the Taliban took over.
“We now know from data from the Departments of State and Homeland Security that only about 25% of those evacuated during NEO in Afghanistan were women or girls. To put that number into context, historically, women and girls account for more than half of emergency refugee outflows,” wrote Ambassador Kelley Currie, Goodwill Ambassador for the State Department’s Bureau of Global Women’s Issues during the Trump administration, in the report.
When Kabul fell and then Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, two senior US officials – General Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, then head of US Central Command, and Zalmay Khalilzad, then Special Representative for Afghanistan which brokered the US-Taliban deal under Trump – met with Taliban officials in Doha, where the militant group has offered the United States security control of the capital.
McKenzie testified that he turned down the offer, telling Congress in September 2021, “It wasn’t my reason for being there, it wasn’t my instruction, and we didn’t have the resources. to undertake this mission.”
However, Khalilzad told the committee he thought “we could have considered it,” the report said. The former official also said the United States did not order the Taliban to stay out of Kabul.
“We didn’t say, ‘don’t go.’ We advised them to be careful,” Khalilzad said, according to the report. Meanwhile, US officials had repeatedly said that the United States supported peace talks between the Taliban and the Ghani government.
Those trying to flee the city were then forced to face the threat of the Taliban as they sought to reach the airport, where thousands of people gathered outside the gates in a desperate attempt to break through. interior and take a flight. And in the early days of the evacuation, the airport operation was so badly run that groups of Afghans took to the airstrip and desperately tried to hold off departing planes.
“Since the administration ceded control of Kabul to the Taliban, it was a very difficult situation tactically. But it was the decisions they made – or in some cases avoided making – that led to this tactical challenge situation,” McCaul said.
National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the report “is riddled with inaccurate characterizations, hand-picked information and misrepresentations” and that it “advocates endless war and the sending even more American troops to Afghanistan”.
As this chaos unfolded, the report claims the administration “repeatedly misled the American public” by attempting to downplay the grim situation on the ground and instead paint a picture of competence and progress.
The report juxtaposes State Department officials’ comments with internal memos, such as one from August 20 that said at least seven Afghans had “died while waiting outside the gates of HKIA (Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport) ” and that the Taliban “refused to accept the remains” of the corpses which were stored at the airport.
“At one point, State Department spokesman Ned Price was encouraging people to come to the airport and telling the press that the evacuation was ‘efficient and efficient,’ but the gates of the “Airport were closed and internal memos were talking about how there were too many dead bodies at the airport and they don’t know how to deal with all of them,” McCaul said.
Biden’s admin declined to participate
The committee requested transcribed interviews with more than 30 administration officials, but the Biden administration declined to participate. For the report, the committee relied on interviews and information from whistleblowers, conversations with people who were in Kabul during the pullout, and fact-finding trips to the region.
The State Department has pushed back on the suggestion that it has failed to comply with congressional oversight efforts.
The Republicans leading that inquiry are in the minority, which means they have no subpoena power, but they have indicated they will issue subpoenas and continue to investigate the takedown if their party came to power in this year’s elections. They call it an interim report.
“The U.S. government evacuated approximately 600 Afghan security force personnel who assisted in the evacuation providing perimeter security and other duties, but these represent a very small fraction of U.S.-trained units. who fought alongside US troops. And even those who were lucky enough to be found themselves stranded in third countries,” the report said, adding that 3,000 Afghan security forces fled to Iran according to a SIGAR report earlier this year.
As of July, the Biden administration still had no plan to prioritize the evacuation of those Afghans from the area, with the State Department awaiting a political decision from the NSC, the report said.
CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to reflect the expected release timing of the report.
This story has also been updated with additional reports.