Senate Republicans probe Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, identify planning failures

A new Republican report outlines President Biden’s missteps and what it describes as a “failure of leadership” during the drawdown from Afghanistan that left thousands of American citizens and Afghan partners stranded. 

The report by Sen. James E. Risch of Idaho, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, details how Mr. Biden failed to plan for worst-case scenarios, ignored intelligence reports and put U.S. credibility on the line for years to come. 

“While there is substantial disagreement about the policy to leave Afghanistan, Americans share outrage over how the United States withdrew last August, and what that failure has done to America’s standing in the world,” Mr. Risch said. “My report describes how the Biden Administration’s failure of duty allowed for a quick Taliban takeover of Afghanistan and a botched withdrawal that left hundreds of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghan partners behind.”

The 64-page report, which was released Thursday, arrives as Mr. Biden is again embroiled in a foreign policy crisis. This time, the president is locked into a steadily worsening confrontation with Russia over Ukraine.

The Afghanistan report details key decisions made by the Biden administration that it says contributed to the disastrous outcome from the U.S. pullout in August.

Once the withdrawal was announced in mid-April of last year, the U.S. military immediately began its rapid withdrawal of personnel and equipment, completing more than 90% of its retrograde by early July. 

But the report says that throughout the withdrawal, officials in Washington ignored indications of a worsening situation on the ground. 

“By late June, concern within the national security community mounted as the Taliban continued to make advances on the ground,” it said. “These advances were facilitated by President Biden’s decision to suspend air, intelligence, and contractor support to the Afghan Air Force, which depended on continued U.S. assistance to maintain its advanced planes and helicopters.”

Mr. Biden also ignored objections raised by members of his Cabinet, including National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, over his decision to depart from Bagram Air Base in July, which they said significantly constrained evacuation operations and led to the release of prisoners, including senior Al Qaeda operatives that were detained on the base. 

“Tragically, a prisoner released from the Parwan prison at Bagram following the U.S. departure was responsible for the twin attacks outside HKIA on August 27, which claimed the lives of 13 U.S. service members and dozens of Afghan civilians — the deadliest day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan in a decade,” Mr. Risch wrote. 

Furthermore, the report details key missteps and planning failures that led to Americans and Afghan partners being left behind, despite the U.S. completing its “largest air evacuation” in history. 

The White House National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Mr. Risch said the administration failed to plan for the evacuation of Afghans who aided the U.S. and American citizens until just weeks before the final withdrawal of U.S. troops.

The administration also failed to accurately track the number of U.S. citizens left in the country, and administration officials downplayed the number of those left behind in testimony before Congress. 

“One of the most important roles of the U.S. government is for the protection of American citizens overseas,” the report says. “The Biden Administration failed to properly plan for an evacuation despite countless warning signs that a Taliban takeover was imminent. The U.S. government failed to even account for the number of people who would need to be evacuated, let alone for how this evacuation would occur.”

In terms of Afghans left behind, the report also digs into the backlog of 18,000 applicants for the Special Immigrant Visa program designed for Afghans who supported the U.S. throughout the war. 

“Despite credible and substantial forewarning that the Taliban was advancing across the country, the Biden Administration took minimal steps to improve processing under the SIV program,” the report says. “Instead of taking decisive executive action, the administration dithered, wasted time, and subsequently blamed Congress for the inability to expeditiously process SIVs at that time.”

Tens of thousands of SIV applicants and their family members remained in Afghanistan as the U.S. withdrew, according to No One Left Behind, a nonprofit organization that advocates on behalf of Afghan interpreters and others who assisted the U.S. 

Lawmakers continue to press the administration on the bungled withdrawal, which Mr. Risch said will continue to haunt the administration “for years to come.” 

Still, Republicans say that the administration continues to duck accountability. 

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared Wednesday for a closed hearing before the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.

Republicans have zeroed in on questions about the number of U.S. citizens still left in Afghanistan, along with the administration’s plan to deal with the likely prospect that the country will once again become a regional base for al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorist groups to set up shop.

Lawmakers of both parties say they still haven’t heard good explanations for why the administration was unable to fulfill its promise to evacuate thousands of Afghan translators and interpreters who aided the 20-year U.S. war effort as the summer-long pullout unfolded and now are likely Taliban targets.

“The United States will have to deal with the fallout of this failure for years to come, so it is imperative that we mitigate the strategic implications to ensure we do not repeat mistakes,” Mr. Risch said.

• Ben Wolfgang contributed to this story.

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