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State Dept. investigating itself over Afghanistan pullout disaster says new report

A Marine assigned to the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) escorts a Department of State employee for evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell)
October 19, 2021

The U.S. State Department’s Inspector General is launching several different investigations into the department’s handling of various issues that came up in the final weeks of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan, according to State Department and congressional officials and documents reviewed by Politico on Monday.

According to Politico’s sources, parts of the investigative effort will focus on the sudden emergency evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on August 15 as the city fell under Taliban control. Another part of the investigative effort will focus on the State Department’s Special Immigrant Visa program, the Afghans processed for refugee admission into the U.S. and the resettlement itself of those refugees and visa recipients.

Diana Shaw, the State Department’s acting inspector general, notified Congress of the new investigations on Monday.

“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 in a letter obtained by Politico. Shaw’s letter was reportedly sent to sent to leaders of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and the intelligence committees in both chambers, among other committees.

In response to a request for comment about the effort, State OIG spokesperson Ryan Holden said “State OIG notified its committees of jurisdiction today of planned projects in the areas you mention. This work will be conducted in coordination with other members of the IG community. However, it is inaccurate to say that these projects are investigations. We indicated to Congress that these projects will be reviews.”

The State Department inspector general’s investigation comes after the Pentagon’s inspector general has already begun three reviews into matters relating to the Afghanistan withdrawal: The U.S. drone strike that killed 10 civilians in Kabul, the military’s processes for screening displaced Afghans, and an audit of the support the DoD has provided for the relocating Afghan nationals.

The Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) may also review the events surrounding the Afghanistan military withdrawal and civilian evacuation.

An understanding of some of the decisions that added to the chaos of the Afghanistan evacuation may require multiple reviews from multiple departments. On Sunday, The Hill reported lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been frustrated as Defense Department and State Department officials have pointed blame at one another over the Afghanistan withdrawal efforts.

In a recent hearing, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) said, “When the State Department is here and we asked them a question they say, ‘Well, you have to ask the Defense Department that. And now today, again, Defense Department people are before us. And the question was asked and the answer … was, ‘Well, you’ll have to ask the State Department that.”

Rep. Ami Bera (D-CA) said, “There is a lot of finger-pointing taking place right now, and I think we’ve got to learn what worked and what didn’t. I would try to take the politics out of it. How did we get Afghanistan so wrong after 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars of investment?”