Defense secretary blames State Department for delay in Afghanistan evacuation
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday blamed the State Department for the last-minute evacuation of allies from Afghanistan.
“The call on how to do that and when to do it is really a State Department call,” Austin said in response to a question from Rep. Jim Langevin (D-R.I.).
The Biden administration has come under intense scrutiny for a chaotic withdrawal that left behind many Afghan allies, including those seeking a special immigrant visa (SIV) following their assistance to the U.S. military.
Austin said the State Department pumped the breaks on a quick exit following pushback from then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
“Their concerns rightfully were that, No. 1, they were being cautioned by the Ghani administration that if they withdrew American citizens and SIV applicants at a pace that was too fast, it would cause a collapse of the government that we were trying to prevent. And so, I think that went into the calculus,” Austin said.
He also said that slow SIV processing stalled the military operations.
“A number of things kind of came together to cause what happened to happen. But again, we provided our input and we certainly would have liked to seen it go faster or sooner,” Austin said.
For his part, Langevin criticized the Biden administration for waiting well into the withdrawal to begin its rushed evacuation.
“I wish the administration had been more thoughtful and not had rushed this. I’ve yet to hear the answer to the question, though, of why did we not start withdrawing American citizens and SIVs sooner. We knew we were going to be withdrawing,” he said.
Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) said lawmakers had been given assurances from Ghani and other Afghan leaders they would be able to stabilize the country so long as there was not a massive exodus of Afghans.
“They were very, very confident that they would be able to maintain their government through the reduction and the withdrawal of American troops. … they also said that they did not want to allow Afghans to leave. That’s what They specifically told us they did not want Afghans to leave — obviously Ghani decided that he would leave,” he said, referencing Ghani’s rushed departure from Afghanistan.