Senate GOP report knocks Biden administration over Afghanistan evacuation planning
A report released by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Republican members knocked the Biden administration for its handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan last fall.
The senators allege that the Biden administration ignored intelligence reports about a possible speedy takeover of Kabul by the Taliban; did not make a decision about Afghanistan evacuations until a National Security Council Deputies Committee meeting on Aug. 14, two weeks before the withdrawal was to be completed; and that State Department dissent cables were disregarded.
“Despite countless warnings that the Taliban had the ability to take the country swiftly, the Biden Administration failed to properly plan a coordinated evacuation of U.S. citizens, Afghans, and allied partners,” Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), the committee’s ranking member, said in the report.
“The administration waited until less than a day before Kabul fell to make senior leadership decisions on organizing and executing a withdrawal, which proved to be too little too late,” he continued. “While the Department of Defense and Department of State pulled off a major feat in the number of people evacuated, more of our partners could have been saved if proper planning had been conducted.”
The report said that the process for Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants should have been improved, in addition to the accounting of Americans in Afghanistan, and it also criticized the National Security Council, which “failed to keep DoD and State in sync with each other.”
However, the report did note that challenges related to the SIV in Afghanistan, like an inability to verify employment by the State or Defense Departments and insufficient staffing, “predate” the Biden administration.
“As the lead agency during the [noncombatant emergency operation], State did not issue consistent or clear guidance for who should make their way to [Hamid Karzai International Airport], and subsequently, who would be granted access to the gates guarded by U.S. personnel,” another portion of the report read.
“American citizens, the highest priority, became stuck in violent crowds pushing their way to the gate openings. Violence and injury marred the path towards ultimate evacuation on an airplane.”
A White House spokesperson pushed back against the report, saying “Republicans on the committee did next to nothing” to address former President Trump’s handling of Afghanistan, which included a commitment to withdraw U.S. forces from the country.
“When we took office, we got to work rebuilding a refugee resettlement program that had been systematically dismantled, revitalizing an SIV program that had not even interviewed people in 300 days, and began contingency planning for any number of scenarios,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“It was due to that planning and other efforts that we were able to facilitate the evacuation of more than 120,000 Americans, legal permanent residents, vulnerable Afghans and other partners in a few short weeks.”
The spokesperson also added that early on in the Biden administration, SIV processing had been accelerated and “pre-positioned military assets … ultimately allowed us to secure and operate Kabul’s airport and facilitate over 120,000 departures by August 31, under extraordinarily challenging circumstances.”
The report comes as the administration faces scrutiny for its withdrawal from Afghanistan from Republicans and some Democrats. The administration acknowledged immediately following their troop withdrawal that some Americans and Afghans had been left behind.
However, the White House spokesperson said that it took steps to evacuate Afghans before the collapse of the government, including in July launching Operation Allies Refuge, that brought close to 2,000 SIV holders, applicants and family members to the U.S. before the government’s collapse.
A spokesperson for the State Department in a statement also placed some of the blame on the Trump administration for some of woes experienced during the Afghanistan withdrawal, saying “this administration inherited an SIV program that had been deliberately slowed and a refugee resettlement program that had been decimated by the last administration.”
“After taking office, we surged resources and staff in order to issue nearly 8,400 SIVs in the first year of this administration, and since August 30 have brought about 3,500 U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, SIV holders and their immediate families out of Afghanistan,” the spokesperson added. “We are prepared to bring out thousands more this year as operational and security conditions allow, in collaboration with our partners.”
—Updated at 5:26 p.m.
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