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House GOP’s Afghanistan Investigation Kicks Off
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House GOP’s Afghanistan Investigation Kicks Off

Members will examine the chaotic August 2021 evacuation of Afghan allies.

A C-17 Globemaster takes off as Taliban fighters secure the outer perimeter of the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, August 29, 2021. (MARCUS YAM / LOS ANGELES TIMES)

Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee will hold their opening hearing this week on the Biden administration’s 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan. Now with a majority in the chamber—and the subpoena power that comes with it—GOP lawmakers will seek answers about how the end of the war turned into such a fiasco.

Set for Wednesday morning, the hearing will feature testimony from veterans involved in efforts to evacuate Afghan allies and others at risk since the Taliban took power. Scott Mann, a former Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, will testify. So will Aiden Gunderson, who served four years as a combat medic and deployed to Afghanistan in August 2021 to help with the evacuation.

The last-minute, chaotic operation evacuated more than 123,000 Afghans and American citizens from the country shortly before and after the fall of Kabul in summer 2021. Yet tens of thousands of interpreters and allies who were entitled to legal permanent residence in the United States were left behind.

“What happened in Afghanistan was a systemic breakdown of the federal government at every level—and a stunning failure of leadership by the Biden administration,” Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul said in a statement. “I want every gold and blue star family member, and every veteran out there who watch this hearing to know: I will not rest until we determine how this happened—and hold those accountable responsible.”

The U.S. military also made a deadly mistake amid the withdrawal, targeting a vehicle officials believed to pose a terrorist threat. It didn’t. Instead, the strike killed 10 civilians, seven of whom were children.

McCaul has been asking the State Department to hand over internal documents about the withdrawal for months. He sent a letter to the department last week reiterating those requests and complaining about delays. He raised the possibility of issuing subpoenas if officials don’t comply.

At top of mind: a reported July 2021 dissent cable sent by more than 20 State Department officials who warned of the possible collapse of Kabul if the withdrawal proceeded. It’s been of bipartisan interest: Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the committee, first requested it in August 2021, though the department hasn’t handed over the document. McCaul also wants to see the administration’s after-action report on the withdrawal and emergency action plans for the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

During the hearing, members may also discuss a recent inspector general report that found at least $7.2 billion of military equipment—including aircraft, missiles, communications technology, and other devices—was left behind. 

Members of Congress and advocacy organizations had urged the U.S. to speed up evacuations of allies ahead of the withdrawal. Some lawmakers even asked the administration in June 2021 to evacuate allies who were still working through the beleaguered special immigrant visa approval process to Guam, a U.S. island, where they would be safe from Taliban reprisals while their paperwork was reviewed.

The administration didn’t heed those calls. Secretary of State Antony Blinken assured lawmakers in a hearing before the withdrawal that the American embassy in Kabul would likely still be able to process applications, even if the Taliban took other parts of Afghanistan. He also predicted a much slower collapse than what followed.

“Whatever happens in Afghanistan, if there is a significant deterioration in security—that could well happen, we’ve discussed this before—I don’t think it’s going to be something that happens from a Friday to a Monday,” Blinken said at the time. “I wouldn’t necessarily equate the departure of our forces in July, August, or by early September, with some kind of immediate deterioration in the situation.”

But that was almost exactly what happened in August, when the Taliban made massive gains and swept into power over a weekend. The evacuation placed American soldiers and Afghan civilians in danger: A terrorist bombing at the Kabul airport during the effort killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghans.

Lawmakers’ work isn’t limited to oversight. There are still many Afghans in immigration limbo, but members of Congress haven’t agreed on a way to offer them permanent status. The witnesses on Wednesday could urge lawmakers to solidify plans for Afghans who have been in the United States on temporary status. A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation last year to establish a pathway for Afghans seeking permanent legal residency and a separate vetting process for them. 

As of last month, fewer than 5,000 of the 77,000 Afghans resettled in America had secured permanent legal status for themselves and their families. 

Many are facing a summer deadline, when they won’t be able to legally live and work in the United States without congressional intervention or approval for another kind of immigration status.

“We still have thousands of interpreters and other Afghan partners who put themselves and their loved ones at risk remaining in Afghanistan, and thousands more who were evacuated to the U.S. now facing legal uncertainty as they try to rebuild their lives,” former Rep. Peter Meijer, who sponsored the legislation last year, said when it was introduced.

“Our credibility with our allies and our moral standing in the world depend on the completion of this mission.”

On the Floor

The House will consider a Senate-passed bill this week requiring the Biden administration to declassify intelligence about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Members will also debate legislation banning federal employees from promoting censorship of lawful speech in their official capacities.

The Senate continues to consider judicial and executive nominations. Senators are also expected to vote this week on overturning Washington, D.C.’s new criminal justice law. 

Key Hearings

  • Federal Reserve board chairman Jerome Powell is testifying before the Senate banking panel this morning. He will also appear before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday morning. Information and livestreams here and here.
  • Members of the House Oversight and Accountability subcommittee on coronavirus will hold a hearing Wednesday morning about the origins of COVID-19. Information and livestream here.
  • Top intelligence community officials will appear before the Senate intelligence panel Wednesday morning for an annual worldwide threats hearing, followed by a similar hearing in the House intelligence panel on Thursday morning. Information and livestreams here and here.
  • Senators on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee will examine artificial intelligence risks and opportunities in a hearing Wednesday morning. Information and livestream here.
  • The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to debate legislation Wednesday morning to repeal the 2002 authorization for the use of military force against Iraq. Information and livestream here.
  • A House Homeland Security subcommittee will meet Thursday morning to examine threats posed by the Chinese Communist Party. Information and livestream here.
  • The House oversight panel will hold its next hearing about Hunter Biden and the Biden family’s investments on Friday morning. Information and livestream here.
  • The Helsinki Commission will meet Friday morning to debate how to counter the Wagner Group, a Russian mercenary organization. Information and livestream here.

Of Note

Haley Wilt is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.