The House Foreign Affairs Committee will kick off its first hearing of the 118th Congress Wednesday examining the Biden administration’s deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, which Republicans say was a “stunning failure” of leadership.
The Taliban quickly took over Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul in August 2021 as US troops prepared to withdraw on Biden’s orders, timed for the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Thirteen US service members and 170 others were killed during the withdrawal after a suicide bomber detonated explosives near Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, and thousands of US citizens and allies were left behind in the country overrun by the Taliban.
According to a GOP committee aid, the purpose of the hearing is twofold – first, to serve as a “scene setter” and a reminder why the investigation is critical, and second, to allow veterans the chance to tell their stories and experiences on the ground during the withdrawal. Eighteen months later, many feel that the same government has “dismissed the trauma this caused,” including by sweeping the whole thing under the rug, the aide told Fox News Digital, stressing the importance of hearing Wednesday.
“What happened in Afghanistan was a systemic breakdown of the federal government at every level – and a stunning failure of leadership by the Biden administration,” Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, told Fox News Digital ahead of the hearing.
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“As a result, the world watched heartbreaking scenes unfold in and around the Kabul airport. I want every gold and blue star family member, and every veteran out there who watches this hearing to know: I will not rest until we determine how this happened – and hold those accountable responsible,” McCaul continued.
Witnesses include: Former Specialist Aidan Gunderson, still Army medic who was on the ground inside the Kabul airport during the evacuation; Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews who was seriously injured while stationed at Abbey Gate; Francis Q. Hoang, executive chairman of volunteer organization Allied Airlift 21; Peter Lucier, lead for strategic partnerships and allied organizations for Team America Relief; and Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Scott Mann, the founder of Operation Pineapple Express.
Task Force Pineapple, which Mann started and Gunderson helped operate, has successfully evacuated around 1,000 Afghan allies to date.
McCaul previously told Fox News Digital during an exclusive interview last month that one of the first actions he planned to take is requesting to view the classified dissenting cable that US State Department employees sent warning about a deteriorating security situation and urging the immediate evacuation of allies.
“I have subpoena power. I reserve that until necessary. But I’m prepared to do that to get answers to these questions,” McCaul said. He also plans to investigate why the suicide bomber was allowed to leave Bagram — after which he killed 13 US service members — why Bagram Airport was turned over to the Taliban, and other issues.
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A year later in August 2022, McCaul in his capacity as the then-ranking member on the committee released an interim report outlining the findings of his investigation into the withdrawal. The report was critical, accusing the administration of failing to evacuate some US-trained Afghan military personnel and potentially creating a major national security risk.
At the time, a White House Response memo called the Republicans’ review a “partisan report” that is “riddled with inaccurate characterizations, cherry-picked information, and false claims.”
“Bringing our troops home strengthened our national security by better positioning us to confront the challenges of the future and put the United States in a stronger place to lead the world,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson wrote in the memo.
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The House Committee on Oversight and Accountability is also ramping up its investigation into the withdrawal and is demanding Biden’s top officials answer for “tactical and strategic failures.”
In letters sent last month to senior White House leadership, the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff, State Department, Department of Homeland Security and the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Committee Chairman James Comer, R-Ky., demanded additional information into the Afghanistan withdrawal “catastrophe.”