Michael McCaul requests interviews with Biden officials on Afghan withdrawal

Michael McCaul requests interviews with Biden officials on Afghan withdrawal

Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are requesting that 34 Biden administration officials appear for transcribed interviews regarding the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan in an escalation of the lawmakers’ probe after “months of delayed and often incomplete responses” from senior State Department officials.

In a scathing letter Monday to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the 22 lawmakers, led by the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, described recent State Department briefings before Congress as “cursory exercises that mystify as much as they illuminate” and called on the officials to testify to bring “accountability and transparency to a situation that, thus far, has involved neither.”

“It has been over two months since the Biden Administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan that resulted in the deaths of 13 Americans, and there are still many unanswered questions about the planning – or lack thereof – that preceded the drawdown and evacuation,” the lawmakers wrote.

Monday’s letter underscores the Republican frustration on Capitol Hill with the Biden administration’s response leading up to and in the wake of the withdrawal.

During his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in June, Mr. Blinken largely brushed off Mr. McCaul’s concerns over the likelihood that the Taliban would gain control over Afghanistan soon after the U.S. departed and warnings that those who helped the U.S. throughout the withdrawal faced near-certain peril following the withdrawal. 

Mr. Blinken assured the committee that a swift Taliban takeover was unlikely.

In August, just days after the Taliban swept through Kabul, Republicans on the committee wrote to Mr. Blinken requesting details surrounding the State Department’s plans to evacuate Americans and Special Immigrant Visa applicants that remained in Afghanistan

In their letter, the lawmakers also requested details into the administration’s plans to ensure the U.S. maintains necessary intelligence collection capabilities in the region to thwart future terrorist plots from reaching the homeland.

The lawmakers said Mr. Blinken has still not responded to their letter from August.

Mr. Blinken appeared before the House Foreign Affairs committee in mid-September, just weeks after the U.S. completed its withdrawal leaving hundreds of U.S. citizens behind. 

But the hearing offered few details and largely set the course for a series of hearings on Capitol Hill that quickly devolved into partisan back and forth as Democrats sought to blame the previous administration’s Doha agreement for paving the way for the U.S. withdrawal.

“What we saw in Afghanistan was a systemic failure of the federal government that led to the chaos and horrific devastation,” Mr. McCaul said in a statement following Mr. Blinken’s testimony. “While I appreciate the Secretary testifying before our committee yesterday, he once again provided us with little to no new information.”

The lawmakers said in their letter Monday that they are specifically requesting further detail into the number of U.S. citizens and permanent residents who remain in Afghanistan and the State Department’s efforts to process Special Immigrant Visa applications.

They also want information on agreements reached with the Taliban and other countries concerning America’s over-the-horizon counterterrorism plan, and the administration‘s foreign assistance policy for Afghanistan going forward.

“Your refusal to provide the requested documents and interviews would not only prevent the Committee from fully investigating the matters outlined above but also impede Congress’ ability to fulfill its Constitutional responsibilities to protect our national security,” the lawmakers wrote.