House Intel Democrats express doubts about completing Afghan evacuation by deadline

House Intel Democrats express doubts about completing Afghan evacuation by deadline
© Greg Nash

Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee expressed doubt Monday that the U.S will be able to evacuate its remaining citizens and Afghan allies before an Aug. 31 deadline.

“I think it's possible, but I think it's very unlikely given the number of Americans who still need to be evacuated, the number of SIVs, the number of others who are members of the Afghan press, civil society leaders, women leaders,” Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff: McCarthy 'will do whatever Trump tells him' if GOP wins back House Jan. 6 panel to pursue criminal contempt referral for Bannon Bannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ MORE (D-Calif.) told reporters, nodding to Afghan Special Immigrant Visa holders who assisted the U.S. military.

“It's hard for me to imagine all of that can be accomplished between now and the end of the month.”

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The comments came following the committee’s first in-person briefings with officials from the intelligence community after the House returned to Washington this week.

Schiff is one of a number of Democrats calling on the Biden administration to commit to staying in Afghanistan beyond Aug. 31 in order to help evacuate some 10,000 to 15,000 Americans in the country, along with former Afghan interpreters and their families numbering beyond 80,000.

“I don't think it's possible to get out who we need to get out including our Afghan partners by Aug. 31. That's why I've been repeatedly asking the administration to extend that deadline because I don't see a scenario under which we get our folks out,” said Rep. Jason CrowJason CrowThe United States must lead the way on artificial intelligence standards Colorado remap plan creates new competitive district Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Afghan evacuation still frustrates MORE (D-Colo.). 

Schiff said he was encouraged that the U.S. has now evacuated roughly 37,000 people out of Afghanistan.

“Nevertheless, given the logistical difficulties of moving people to the airport, and the limited number of workarounds, it's hard for me to see that being fully complete by the end of the month, and I'm certainly of the view that we maintain a military presence as long as it's necessary to get all U.S. persons out and to meet our moral and ethical obligation to our Afghan partners,” Schiff said, calling the threats to the airport “very real and very substantial.”

The briefing came amid growing questions over the role of the intelligence community, which some Biden administration officials have blamed for not predicting the speed at which the Afghan government would fall.

“There was nothing that I or anyone else saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyWe've left Afghanistan — but its consequences are just starting to arrive Key Iraq War strategist and former Army chief Raymond Odierno dies at 67 Feehery: A Republican Congress is needed to fight left's slide to autocracy MORE said last week.

Schiff, however, described the intelligence community's assessments of the Afghan government’s ability to maintain itself as “increasingly pessimistic” in recent months.

Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyProgressives cheer, moderates groan as Biden visit caps chaotic week  House Democrats urge Pelosi to prioritize aid for gyms House Intel Democrats express doubts about completing Afghan evacuation by deadline MORE (D-Ill.) also defended U.S. intelligence services.

“In my mind isn't it more of a failure of honestly assessing their capabilities and will? Does anyone think that's changed in 20 years? So, you know, we always put it on intel. I would say the intel assessments were always grim, solid, consistent,” he said, mentioning a trip to Afghanistan to visit U.S. training efforts.

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“I'm no military guy, but nothing gave me confidence they could ever operate by themselves.”

Monday’s briefing was the first of what Schiff said will be a broader oversight effort “with an eye to what did we miss.”

“To what degree are we capable as intelligence agencies of divining the will to fight among the Afghan people in the Afghan military force — were there warning signs that are missed?” he asked.

“With respect to the objective of standing up a government that would earn the support of the Afghan people, that mission failed, and we have to ask ourselves some very difficult questions about why.”