Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are using an interim report examining President Biden’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan to telegraph their plans to exercise intense scrutiny, and possible subpoenas, if the GOP clinches the majority in Congress in 2022.
The strategy, led by House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), is expected to be published this week in a 118-page, interim report called “‘A Strategic Failure’: Assessing the Administration’s Afghanistan Withdrawal.”
Included in the report are Republicans’ intentions, if they take the majority, to use subpoena power to compel officials to sit for transcribed interviews, naming 34 current and former officials that they say the State Department has blocked from appearing before the committee.
They also intend to subpoena documents that they say the State Department has failed to provide, including “documents, messages, reports, legal opinions, meeting readouts, and other materials related to the withdrawal from Afghanistan.”
“The Biden administration’s, and specifically the State Department’s, refusal to provide Congress with the necessary information regarding America’s unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan has hampered the Minority Committee’s ability to complete a thorough investigation,” the report, shared with The Hill, states.
The report doesn’t deliver any smoking guns, instead offering a detailed look at an event that many Americans watched unfold on TV, horrified by scenes of chaos outside the airport and Afghans inside chasing after planes.
It spends ample time analyzing Biden’s decision to continue to comply with timelines set forth in a deal first brokered by his predecessor, former President Trump.
But Republicans primarily focus on a lack of planning leading up to the withdrawal and analyze a series of missteps and errors that complicated what was ultimately a deadly evacuation.
“The Biden administration had largely wasted the four months since the president announced the full withdrawal, failing to adequately plan for the anticipated Taliban takeover,” the committee wrote.
The report criticizes the lack of staffing at Afghanistan’s largest airport — both to manage crowds and to process the throngs of people desperate to leave.
“The failure to anticipate a surge of refugees at the Kabul airport, often referred to as Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA), despite the military assessing Kabul to be at risk of falling to the Taliban, combined with an inadequate number of U.S. personnel initially deployed, created the powder keg that exploded with the chaotic scenes that reverberated around the world, including images of Afghans falling to their deaths,” the lawmakers wrote.
They also cited internal State Department memos showing that the number of consular officers in Kabul never surpassed 36 personnel, “roughly one consular officer for every 3,444 evacuees.”
An initial draft report shared with reporters brought up a national security concern over the fate of 3,000 Afghan security forces that fled to Iran. However, the draft report failed to mention that most of these security forces reportedly returned to Afghanistan under a general amnesty, information that was included in a May 12 report from the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction and cited by the GOP.
The report was updated after the exclusion was raised by The Hill and edited to reflect GOP concerns that the Biden administration had yet to deliver a strategy on addressing the threat of U.S.-trained Afghan military being recruited by adversaries.
The GOP requests, in their report, that Biden officials appear for open hearings or risk being subpoenaed. The officials include: Secretary of State Antony Blinken; Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon; USAID Administrator Samantha Power; Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and national security adviser Jake Sullivan.
Blinken last testified in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee in September 2021, shortly after the withdrawal was completed. McKeon led a closed-door briefing for the committee in June that contained classified and unclassified portions.
McCaul later appealed to the State Department that McKeon and other briefers release their unclassified remarks.
“I would also like to once again ask that the State Department participate in more open/unclassified briefings and hearings before the full House Foreign Affairs Committee so that the American people can gain a better and more transparent understanding of what took place in Afghanistan during the final days of America’s presence there and the current realities on the ground,” McCaul wrote in June.
Another strategy McCaul is exercising includes filing a Resolution of Interest (ROI), text that states his request for interviews and documents that the minority staff say the State Department has failed to produce.
The resolutions were filed last month and are expected to “ripen” in September, compelling a vote to take place on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
The vote would put members on record over whether they agree or disagree that the requests in the resolution be fulfilled.
“Requesting the President, and directing the Secretary of State, to transmit to the House of Representatives copies of all documents in their possession referring or relating to certain aspects of the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan,” the resolution states.
An aide in McCaul’s office said the expectation and hope is that the ROI will be put to a vote during a committee markup in September. If that fails to happen, the ROI could go to the House floor for a full vote.
A committee aide described the report as a “living document” that is continuously updated as the staff receive more information. The publication of the interim report is an attempt to raise awareness of unanswered questions, and alleges that the State Department, in particular, has stonewalled the lawmakers’ requests for information.
“We have the military’s perspective fairly well laid out because they did transcribed interviews and they point to points of failure, they point to not enough consular officers being deployed to the evacuation,” the aide said.
“The NEO [Non-combatant Evacuation Operation] is an operation launched and initiated by the ambassador, by the senior ranking diplomat, the timing of the NEO, that is something that would fall in their lane of responsibility … we need to do more digging to identify and assign specific blame,” the aide added.
“We don’t have enough evidence to call out specific people for these things and we want to get more evidence, that’s the next phase of this.”