State watchdog to launch review of Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal

The acting inspector general of the State Department is launching a number of inquiries into the Biden administration’s handling of the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, according to a notification sent to Congress and obtained by The Hill. 

State Department acting Inspector General Diana Shaw on Monday notified the chairs and ranking members of relevant committees in the House and Senate that the investigative body would be launching “several oversight projects related to the suspension of operations at U.S. Embassy Kabul, Afghanistan.”  

“Given the elevated interest in this work by Congress and the unique circumstances requiring coordination across the Inspector General community, I wanted to notify our committees of jurisdiction of this important work,” Shaw wrote.  

The notification was sent to the top lawmakers of Senate and House committees related to Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, Oversight, Appropriations and Intelligence. 

Politico was first to report the news.  

Shaw will focus on four areas of inquiry, including a review of the Afghan Special Immigrant Visa Program; the process for refugee admission in the U.S.; resettlement of Afghan refugees and visa recipients; and Embassy Kabul’s emergency action planning and execution, including the evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghan nationals.  

The Biden administration’s end of operations in Afghanistan was thrown into chaos with the fall of the Western-backed government in Kabul on Aug. 15 to a lightening takeover of the country by the Taliban, the fundamentalist Islamist group that had battled U.S. forces over 20 years of engagement in Afghanistan. 

Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized the administration’s handling of the U.S. exit from Afghanistan, questioning how two decades of financial and physical investment failed to stand up the Afghan government and armed forces in the face of the insurgent Taliban.

Emergency evacuation efforts also appeared to be crafted on the fly as the U.S. embassy Kabul unexpectedly closed its doors with the Taliban takeover, and moved temporary operations to the city’s international airport working to supplement evacuation flights when commercial options ceased. 

The Biden administration managed the evacuation of 125,000 people from the country, the majority described as Afghans at risk of reprisal violence from the Taliban, but have come under criticism for leaving behind American citizens, lawful permanent residents and nearly 100,000 Afghan allies who served alongside U.S. forces over the past 20 years. 

The State Department acknowledged that the majority of Afghan allies, those who qualify for Special Immigrant Visas, were left behind in Afghanistan. Many toiled for years in a frustrating bureaucracy to fill out their paperwork, with many applications left incomplete amid a system that was long criticized as too cumbersome and slow given the approaching deadline for U.S. withdrawal.  

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed frustration in hearings with State Department and Pentagon officials in an effort to glean answers on how the U.S. was so unprepared for what unfolded in the country in mid-August and have criticized the administration for failing to claim responsibility.  

While Democrats have expressed open criticism, Republicans have launched a few different efforts to undertake oversight and follow through on commitments to Afghan allies who remain in the country. 

This includes Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) introducing legislation to establish a bipartisan committee to investigate the failures of the Afghanistan withdrawal.  

Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, introduced legislation last month with nearly two dozen Republicans that would establish a State Department Task Force to continue evacuation efforts for Americans, U.S.-visa holders and Afghan allies.

Tags Afghanistan Afghanistan withdrawal Jim Risch Josh Hawley

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