WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has no plan to help thousands of Afghans who aided the US during its 20-year war against the Taliban and are still stranded in the wartorn country, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee claimed in a damning report.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) warned that “tens of thousands” of Afghans remain “trapped” and under threat of retribution from the fundamentalist government.
Those left behind include former elite Afghan military personnel, interpreters and women leaders promised sanctuary by the US.
“One year after the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan, the Committee Minority has found the Biden administration still lacks a plan to help these at-risk Afghan allies who fought shoulder to shoulder with U.S. forces, despite the administration admitting these former battlefield allies have been subjected to killings and forced disappearances,” McCaul wrote.
The last American forces left Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul on Aug. 30, 2021, following a chaotic evacuation mission marked by an ISIS-K suicide bomb attack that killed 13 American service members and 160 Afghans.
While the US and partner nations airlifted nearly 130,000 people out of the country during the weeks-long mission, McCaul’s report makes clear that many more were left to fend for themselves.
“Following the evacuation debacle, the committee minority believes America’s standing in the world has been degraded, the U.S. is less safe than it was before and those Afghans most at-risk of Taliban reprisals remain trapped in Afghanistan,” McCaul said.
So desperate were those left behind in the face of Taliban repression, the Texas lawmaker noted, that a watchdog report from May of this year found that around 3,000 members of the Afghan security forces fled to neighboring Iran as the Western-backed Kabul government fell.
McCaul’s team reviewed hundreds of reports and memorandums on the evacuation, interviewed witnesses and visited Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar as they prepared the report. They found several failures they claim contributed to the botched pullout.
For example, just 36 State Department officials were in Kabul to screen the 124,000 evacuees, which amounts to “roughly one consular officer for every 3,444 evacuees,” according to the report. If more had been on the ground, the committee’s Republicans believe processing could have gone faster and saved more people.
“Multiple U.S. Marines assigned to [Kabul airport’s] Abbey Gate told Army investigators they rarely saw U.S. State Department personnel on the ground and when they did show up, they did so inconsistently,” the report said.
They also criticized the evacuation’s ill planning, noting that it was “so disorganized that senior leaders in Vice President Kamala Harris’ office and First Lady Jill Biden’s office” asked veterans’ groups to help get vulnerable Afghan allies and Americans out of the country.
“The fact that high-level members of the administration felt the need to go to a volunteer organization and tactical-level commanders on the ground as opposed to utilizing the State Department’s or other government entities’ formal internal processes … underscores that planning ‘for all contingencies’ was not in fact done, no matter how many times the administration made the claim that it had done so,” the report said.
While the US has continued to surveil Afghanistan from afar and killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in a Kabul drone strike on July 30, the report criticized the Biden administration’s “over-the-horizon” counterterror strategy, claiming it has allowed Afghanistan to return to its pre-9/11 status as a terrorist safe haven.
A Tuesday report by the Pentagon’s Office of the Inspector General backed up this claim, noting that the U.S. has had increased difficulty in fighting terrorism in Afghanistan without American troops on the ground.
“The U.S. Government has been significantly challenged in its conduct of counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan due to the absence of a physical presence in-country, lack of partner forces, scant intelligence, and lack of access to nearby military bases,” the Pentagon report said.
It also said ISIS-K continues to have “the intent and capability” to attack US government facilities, equipment and personnel in South and Central Asia. However, it noted the group has so far only focused its attacks on non-US targets in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.
“ISIS-K probably has the intent but not the capability to attack the U.S. homeland,” the Pentagon report said. “The [Defense Intelligence Agency] reported that it saw no indications that ISIS-K has planned, trained for or executed terrorist operations targeting the U.S. homeland.”
The Pentagon report also found the Taliban seized about $7.1 billion of military equipment the U.S. left behind in Afghanistan, including roughly $923.3 million in aircraft and $4.1 billion in military vehicles, some of which had been made inoperable during the evacuation.
“The Afghan forces were heavily reliant on U.S. contractor support to maintain both their aircraft and vehicle fleets,” the report said. “Without this continued support, the long-term operability of these assets would be limited.”
The amount also included roughly $294.6 million in aircraft munitions and $511.8 million in weapons such as rifles, grenade launchers and howitzers, though it is unknown how many remain operational, according to the Pentagon report.
Moving forward, McCaul in his report called for additional analyses of the withdrawal and evacuation mission “to find complete answers as to how this happened and how to ensure something like this does not happen again.”
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