Republican members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Sunday disclosed the findings of their inquiry into the Biden administration’s calamitous evacuation from Afghanistan a year ago, an apparent blueprint for a deeper investigation of the president and his top advisers should the GOP win the House majority in November’s midterm elections.
A draft of their report, provided to The Washington Post, contains new details about the number of Americans left behind when the last military transport departed Kabul’s international airport and the paucity of State Department officers on hand to process the tens of thousands of Afghans trying to flee the Taliban’s takeover. But overall, there are few major revelations.
A Republican aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity under ground rules set by the committee, said that was because the State Department refused to turn over documents or consent to interviews, leaving investigators to rely on public records and materials provided by whistleblowers. A spokesman for the agency said in response that officials had briefed Congress more than 150 times since the withdrawal and continue to update lawmakers on efforts to relocate and resettle Afghans.
It was unclear Sunday night when the report would be released publicly.
The evacuation, unprecedented in scale, was carried out over the last two weeks of August 2021, after the Taliban swept into Kabul, the capital, forcing the U.S.-backed government’s instantaneous collapse. More than 120,000 people were airlifted out of the country, but the mission was overshadowed by a suicide attack that killed an estimated 200 Afghans and 13 American troops, and then a botched U.S. drone strike that left 10 civilians dead.
President Joe Biden and his national security team have faced withering criticism for ordering a complete withdrawal despite Pentagon recommendations that the military maintain a modest footprint in Afghanistan to enable local forces. Critics also have faulted his administration for the disorder, both before and during the evacuation, that for many thwarted their attempts to escape.
“There was a complete lack and a failure to plan,” Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Republican, said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “There was no plan, and there was no plan executed.”
In a statement, the White House refuted the investigation’s findings, labeling the document a “partisan report” that is “riddled with inaccurate characterizations, cherry-picked information and false claims.”
“When President Biden took office, he was faced with a choice: ramp up the war and put even more American troops at risk, or finally end the United States’ longest war after two decades of American presidents sending U.S. troops to fight and die in Afghanistan,” Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the National Security Council, wrote in response to the report.
Over the past year, Biden has repeatedly defended his decision to order the withdrawal of U.S. forces, calling the war unwinnable while also faulting the Trump administration for negotiating what he has criticized as an unfavorable agreement that set the conditions for a U.S. exit.
The administration has been wary of GOP attempts to lay the groundwork for what many observers of Congress believe will be a season of impeachment investigations should Republicans take over the House – a prospect well within reach, as Democrats have only a slim majority.
Multiple Republican lawmakers have filed proposed charges against Biden on subjects ranging from the Afghanistan withdrawal to alleged “corruption” involving his son, Hunter Biden. Such moves are widely seen as an effort to subject Biden to the same investigative scrutiny that Democrats applied to his predecessor, President Donald Trump, who was twice impeached by the House but never convicted in the Senate.
The report, which is scathing in places, was prepared by McCaul’s staff. He has not joined those in the GOP calling for Biden to face Congress’s ultimate oversight tool, but his team has not ruled out such an outcome.
“The decision to withdraw U.S. military forces was made by President Biden, despite advice from his military commanders that such a move could lead to Taliban battlefield gains,” the report states, adding at various points that this decision put the lives of Americans and Afghans in grave danger.
“President Biden continues to mischaracterize the advice he received,” it says. “President Biden continued to lie about this, even months after the withdrawal was complete.”
The report accuses Biden of being particularly callous about the fate of those affected.
“No one personified the indifference and lack of urgency regarding the dire situation facing SIV applicants more than President Biden,” the report reads, using an acronym for Special Immigrant Visa, a limited visa category for certain Afghans who assisted the United States throughout the 20-year war. Biden, it says, abandoned “his pledge” to extract American citizens.
Administration officials strongly deny that the White House did not adequately prepare for the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
The administration began conducting “tabletop exercises” on potential impacts of such a move in the spring of 2021, just after Biden was inaugurated. But White House officials said the intelligence community underestimated how quickly Taliban fighters would overpower Afghan forces and sweep into Kabul.
“We did extensive contingency planning throughout the spring and summer of 2021 and pre-positioned troops in the region, which enabled us to facilitate the evacuation of more than 120,000 people – including more than 70,000 Afghans who we have welcomed to communities across our country,” Watson said.
Administration officials have sought to justify mistakes made during the evacuation by citing the chaos in and around Hamid Karzai International Airport. The report illustrates how dire the scene was – and how unprepared, its authors maintain, Biden’s team proved to be.
For instance, the investigation found that only 36 U.S. consular officers were on-site at the airport during the evacuation’s peak. The dearth of personnel, the authors determined, led to enormous administrative backlogs for the tens of thousands of people who possessed the proper documentation to come to the United States but ultimately were left behind.
The investigation also found that 1,450 Afghan children were evacuated without a parent or guardian.
Perhaps most problematic for Biden, the investigation determined that “over 800” American citizens were left behind, a figure several times higher than the 100 to 200 that administration officials claimed were stranded when the withdrawal concluded on Aug. 31, 2021.
The U.S. government has continued to facilitate evacuations and, as of late last month, 84 American citizens remained who were still trying to leave, a committee aide said.
The report’s authors also offer new details about the Afghan security forces who were left behind. About 3,000 crossed into Iran, it says, taking their equipment and vehicles with them. If any have been recruited as intelligence assets by the Iranians, the committee aide said, it could pose a serious risk for U.S. national security, given how closely some units worked with U.S. troops.
“We believe this happened because they were not evacuated by the U.S. or our allies, and therefore had no other option,” the committee aide said.
The report’s authors say in the report that their findings are incomplete and require fuller investigation, laying out the approach the GOP would take if it secures the House majority and the subpoena power that comes with it.
The report has identified more than 40 people that Republican lawmakers intend to call in for interviews, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, if a deeper investigation is launched. In the meantime, House Republicans are expected to seek a vote next month to compel the State Department to furnish the committee minority with the missing documents and other materials they are seeking.