A forthcoming report by Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee reveals new details on the 2021 Afghanistan withdrawal, including that President Joe Biden’s administration had no plan for handling the withdrawal.
In a Sunday interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) described the findings of the committee’s report, which is set to be released this week. McCaul, the committee’s ranking member, described a lack of U.S. planning before the Taliban seized control of the Afghan capital of Kabul. He also described a “disconnect” between military and intelligence assessments of the devolving situation in Afghanistan and the White House view at the time.
“There are many sins if you will,” McCaul told CBS Margaret Brennan. “There was a complete lack and failure to plan. There was no plan and it was — there was no plan executed.”
The U.S. military oversaw the evacuation of thousands of U.S. and western allied citizens and Afghan refugees through the Hamid Karzai International Airport (HKIA) after Kabul fell under Taliban control on Aug. 15, 2021.
During the evacuation, viral videos emerged of Afghan citizens clinging to the sides of military transport aircraft trying to take off. At least two Afghans fell to their deaths as aircraft took off and another body was found in the landing gear well of a U.S. military transport aircraft.
Evacuation efforts were also slowed as evacuees reportedly had to cross through rows of Taliban-controlled checkpoints to get to the airport and flights reportedly departed with open seats.
In the new assessment, McCaul said that the U.S. State Department also lacked enough resources to process the thousands of refugees evacuating the country through HKIA.
“They had 36 consular officers at HKIA trying to process hundreds of thousands of people,” McCaul said.
As U.S. troops guarded the airport’s perimeter and State Department officials processed the thousands of evacuees, a bomber working with the Islamic State terrorist group ISIS detonated a suicide vest killing dozens, including 13 U.S. service members. ISIS later bragged that the bomber was able to use the chaos of the crowds to sneak only a few feet from U.S. troops before detonating the bomb.
McCaul told Brennan that the biggest failure, as he saw it, was “listening to the intelligence community – tell the story about [the collapse of U.S.-backed Afghan government] is going to be imminent, is going to fall sooner rather than later.”
“The military said – told us the same thing,” McCaul added. “And then we went to State and they paint- and the White House a very rosy picture there’s a disconnect between you know, intelligence on the ground and what the White House is doing in this report that says it all like there’s no way we’re going to evacuate embassy personnel from helicopters like we did in Vietnam. And of course, we know that happened.”
On Aug. 15, 2021, photos and videos emerged of U.S. military helicopters ferrying U.S. personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to the airport.
When asked how he would respond to criticisms the GOP’s minority report would be dismissed as political, McCaul said his past experience as a federal prosecutor gave him an added sense of objectivity.
McCaul then noted another criticism from the report, that the Taliban offered to let U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Frank McKenzie have control over Kabul for the duration of the evacuation but McKenzie’s response was “that’s not my assignment.”
“They do run it up to the White House, and they get no response,” McCaul added. “And then later, [then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki] says they wouldn’t have approved that. Think about what that would have changed. We had relied on the Taliban to secure the perimeter of HKIA. That led to the chaos. It also led to a suicide bomber that killed 13 service members – men and women and injured over hundreds of people. And it could have been avoided.”
Brennan then noted a portion of the minority’s report where the current U.S. Special Envoy for Afghan Women and Girls said she “still struggles to understand how this supposedly pre-planned negotiated inevitable withdrawal ended the way it did. It feels so much like living Schindler’s List.”
“That’s a pretty powerful criticism,” Brennan added.