Nearly two months since President Joe Biden’s disastrous withdrawal and evacuation from Afghanistan, hundreds of Americans are still stuck in the now Taliban-controlled Middle Eastern nation, the Pentagon’s top policy official told Congress on Tuesday.
While testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, the undersecretary of Defense for policy Colin Kahl said at least 196 Americans are immediately ready and waiting to leave Afghanistan and an additional 243 aren’t ready to leave or want to stay.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and other GOP lawmakers on the committee said Kahl’s testimony proves that Biden did not live up to his vow to make sure no American citizens were left stranded in Afghanistan.
Kahl rejected the assertion, however, claiming that “nobody was abandoned.”
“We continue to get people out of Afghanistan, including American citizens,” he said, adding that the State Department has helped organize the evacuation of 240 Americans since September, plus another 157 green card holders. When those who arranged their own departures are tallied, at least 314 Americans and 266 lawful permanent residents have left Afghanistan, Kahl noted.
Kahl also pushed back against claims that keeping 2,500 American troops on the ground could have prevented the Taliban takeover.
“The president did not believe that 2,500 troops was a stable equilibrium,” Kahl told Sen. Angus King, I-Maine. “If we had kept at that level, he would have been under pressure to put in more.”
Despite the Taliban recently regaining power in the region as a result of Biden’s withdrawal, Kahl said the militant group is hesitant to allow terrorist activity to grow out of fear of international retaliation.
“The Taliban and ISIS-K are mortal enemies, so the Taliban is highly motivated to go after ISIS-K,” he said. However, the Taliban’s approach to handling al-Qaida is complicated, he continued, largely due to its relationship with the Haqqani network, a militant group based in Pakistan.
Kahl confirmed that the United States is working to establish formal agreements with neighboring nations from which the US military could conduct airborne operations into Afghanistan.
“We are in conversation with Pakistan to keep the air line of communication open,” Kahl said. “We have also had conversations with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.”
Additionally, Kahl said other nations are also worried about the potential increase in terrorist activity.
“I think both Russia and China are nervous, frankly,” he said. “Despite what their propaganda outlets would suggest, Afghanistan is now a problem that’s much more on their doorstep than on ours.”
In August, President Biden addressed the end of the U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan, calling the withdrawal mission that left 13 service members dead, 18 more injured, and hundreds of Americans stranded behind enemy lines an “extraordinary success.” The president said that 90 percent of those Americans “who wanted to leave were able to leave.”