In a new report, Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee detailed alleged missteps and misleading claims from the State Department and the White House about the Afghanistan withdrawal and vowed investigations into the issue if the GOP regains the House in November.
After 20 years of fighting the Taliban terrorist group in Afghanistan, President Joe Biden decided early into his presidency to carry out a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region.
Despite calls from both parties to extend the time window for the withdrawal, Biden—who critics say was desperate to be out of the country by the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks—moved ahead anyway. As the United States pulled back, Taliban forces swept over the nation, prompting harried and in some cases deadly efforts by Afghans to flee the nation.
In the chaos, many Americans were also left behind.
The scenes from Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) in Kabul, where most of the evacuation efforts took place, heavily dented Biden’s popularity with voters.
According to Rasmussen’s daily presidential tracking poll, Biden’s popularity began to decline more noticeably just as the fall of Afghanistan was underway, and it has not returned to its pre-withdrawal levels in the year since since the withdrawal.
Now, Republicans led by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, have unveiled a report alleging that a series of missteps and miscalculations on the part of the Biden administration and State Department are responsible for the fallout of that withdrawal.
“The choices made in the corridors of power in D.C. led to tragic yet avoidable outcomes: 13 dead service members, American lives still at great risk, increased threats to our homeland security, tarnished standing abroad for years to come, and emboldened enemies across the globe,” the approximately 120-page GOP report states.
Biden Ignored Recommendations From Advisors, Allies
In the report, Republicans said that the issue was in part attributable to Biden’s refusal to follow the advice of senior officials and foreign allies, who called for a continued but limited U.S. presence on the ground.
Republicans said the reasons given by Biden 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 America’s unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden stated the decision was based on many factors, including: Consultations with and advice from both our allies and senior U.S. military advisors; A withdrawal was the only option if we did not want to go back to war with the Taliban; Afghan forces were capable of defending their country without any direct U.S. military support; The 2020 Doha agreement negotiated by the Trump administration forced the withdrawal; and the U.S. mission to kill Osama bin Laden and eradicate al Qaeda had been accomplished.”
“However, the Committee Minority now believes none of these claims were accurate,” the report says. “And worse, President Biden was likely aware they were not accurate when he made his case to the American people in April 2021.”
Instead, they pointed to evidence and testimony demonstrating that American military officials and international allies alike called for some continued presence in the region.
“There is ample evidence, including direct testimony from American military leaders and top NATO allies that they supported a continued conditions-based deployment in Afghanistan. They believed the best option was to keep an advisory and counterterrorism mission in place that consisted of 2,500 U.S. military personnel along with 6,000 mostly NATO forces.”
Over 800 Americans Rescued Since
The House GOP report says that over 800 Americans have been rescued from the nation since the Taliban takeover, a substantial uptick from a previous Senate GOP report which said that 479 Americans had been rescued by Dec. 14, 2021 (pdf).
This means that over 300 Americans have been pulled from the country in just the last eight months—a figure three times greater than the number State Department and Biden officials claimed were still trapped in the country immediately following the fall of Kabul.
As it became increasingly obvious during the late summer of 2021 that the nation was on track to fall to the Taliban, Biden and his State Department officials originally vowed that, despite evidence to the contrary, the U.S. presence in the nation would not end until every American citizen who wanted to leave the country was out, the report states.
“We’re going to stay to get them all out,” was a common refrain from the White House at the time.
But following the withdrawal, Secretary of State Antony Blinken admitted that at least 100 Americans remained in the country. According to the sharp uptick in evacuations since the Senate GOP report, this figure was a severe underestimation on the part of the State Department.
Republicans Denied Information, Promise Investigations
In its own memo on the report, the White House said the report was “riddled with inaccurate characterizations, cherry-picked information, and false claims.” Republicans noted in the report itself that much of their investigative capacity was hampered by refusals on the part of the State Department to provide them with requested documents and data.
“Attempts to receive requested documentation and transcribed interview requests with key officials of the decision to withdraw and the [noncombatant evacuation operation] have been ignored by the State Department. And to date, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has only held one open, full committee hearing with a senior Biden administration official on the Afghanistan withdrawal,” the report said.
In sum, the Republicans said, “The Biden administration had largely wasted the four months since the president announced the full withdrawal, failing to adequately plan for the anticipated Taliban takeover.”
“The failure to anticipate a surge of refugees at the Kabul airport … despite the military assessing Kabul to be at risk of falling to the Taliban, combined with an inadequate number of U.S. personnel initially deployed, created the powder keg that exploded with the chaotic scenes that reverberated around the world, including images of Afghans falling to their deaths.”
If they take the House in the November midterm elections, Republicans made clear that they will subpoena the State Department for the documents and information they’ve been denied so far.
“The Committee Minority believes a much more thorough examination is needed to find complete answers as to how this happened and how to ensure something like this does not happen again,” the report said.
Complete Failure to Plan: McCaul
In an Aug. 14 appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program, McCaul said the withdrawal was the result of a complete failure to plan.
“There was no plan,” he said. “Even beforehand I think the State Department probably didn’t have the resources it needed to carry out an evacuation of this size and enormity. They had 36 consular officers at HKIA trying to process hundreds of thousands of people.”
McCaul related the frustration of having been on the congressional side of the issue, saying that it was made clear to him and other lawmakers that such a fast-paced withdrawal would end disastrously. Despite exhortations from both Republicans and Democrats for Biden to reconsider, McCaul said, the White House persisted in painting “a very rosy picture” that didn’t line up with the facts on the ground.
McCaul said the White House claimed that “there’s no way we’re going to evacuate embassy personnel from helicopters like we did from Vietnam,” noting that, in fact, this was exactly what happened by the end of the withdrawal in Afghanistan.
“The intelligence community got it right. So there was no failure on the intelligence side, nor the Pentagon. They called it right. The problem was the White House and State Department putting their head in the sand, not wanting to believe what [the other agencies] were saying, and therefore not adequately planning.”
White House Denials
In a memo responding to the report, the White House denied the charges levied against Biden by Republicans.
The memo, written by National Security Council spokesperson and former Democratic National Committee staffer Adrienne Watson, claimed that the GOP report was “partisan” and said that it’s “riddled with inaccurate characterizations, cherry-picked information, and false claims.”
The memo repeats an oft-cited claim by Biden and his allies that the withdrawal was almost unavoidable due to a deal that President Donald Trump had signed during his last year in office, promising a withdrawal.
“Former President Trump’s 2020 agreement with the Taliban empowered the Taliban, weakened our partners in the Afghan government, and committed to withdrawing our troops a few months after President Biden’s inauguration—with no clear plan for what should come next,” the memo said.
Several Republican critics have countered that the problem lies not so much with the withdrawal itself, but with the execution of the withdrawal.
Watson also rejected GOP claims that the withdrawal weakened America on the world stage and emboldened the nation’s enemies, instead accusing Trump of damaging America’s reputation when he was in office.