Republican lawmakers and veterans' groups are calling for an investigation and open congressional hearings into how the Biden administration conducted its withdrawal of U.S. troops and evacuation of American citizens and Afghan allies from Afghanistan in 2021.
The eight GOP lawmakers on the House Foreign Affairs Committee's Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation are calling for “a thorough investigation into President Biden’s bungled withdrawal of U.S. forces from the country,” according to a letter obtained by NBC News. The letter is addressed to the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-Fla.
The Republican members of the subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over Afghanistan, argue that the State Department did not establish a procedure to evacuate Americans in Afghanistan, and instead relied on “informal networks of veterans, congressional staffers, and NGOs to do its job of coordinating with American citizens and Afghans on the ground.”
“There remain significant unanswered questions regarding the planning, intelligence, decision making, interagency coordination, aftermath, and consequences of the withdrawal," they wrote. "But one thing is clear, the administration’s talking point that they did the best they could with what they had is transparently false.”
Eighteen veterans' groups are joining the call for an investigation and open hearings with testimony from Biden administration officials. Led by the Special Operations Association of America (SOAA), the groups penned a letter to Meeks and to Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, on Thursday, saying the public “deserve[s] a transparent and robust investigation into the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan,” and “the instability that ensued as a result.” Several groups involved in evacuating people from Afghanistan co-signed the letter, including Task Force Pineapple, Project Exodus Relief and Task Force Argo.
“The American people deserve answers about what happened in Afghanistan,” they wrote.
The CEO of SOAA said it is time to investigate the chaotic withdrawal.
“During the NEO (Noncombatant Evacuation Operations) and the months after it was the right call to focus on helping as many vetted Afghans as possible, as thousands were being actively hunted by the [Taliban]," Daniel Elkins said in an email to NBC News. "However, now is the time to start asking questions to ensure the events of last year never happen again."
McCaul agrees on the need for open hearings. He sent his own letter to Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon Thursday asking the State Department to participate in open and unclassified briefings and hearings.
McKeon and other State Department officials conducted a closed-door, classified briefing on Afghanistan policy for the Foreign Affairs Committee on June 15. McCaul is now asking for some of the unclassified content to be made public.
“Having participated in this classified briefing, you are aware that the majority of the discussion was unclassified. As a result, and to reiterate the specific requests of members in attendance, I seek to have the five unclassified opening statements provided to all HFAC members,” McCaul wrote.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee has oversight over the State Department.
In a statement, a House Foreign Affairs Committee spokesperson said, "The committee has held several briefings and hearings that have touched on Afghanistan since the August withdrawal at both the member and staff level. This includes a member-level briefing just last week with five senior-level State Department officials, which unfortunately many of the signatories of that letter failed to attend. The committee has also been appreciative of the department’s cooperation and responsiveness to our requests for information on Afghanistan, a noticeable departure from the previous administration."
There are still about 300 American citizens in Afghanistan, according to State Department figures. The State Department says more than 80 of them are actively trying to leave the country.
The State Department has received more than 67,500 applications for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and about 9,000 applicants have been approved by the U.S. chief of mission but have not left Afghanistan.
About 47,000 Afghans who have already left Afghanistan have applied for U.S. humanitarian parolee status, but of those 5,400 have been denied and only about 300 have been approved.
In a statement, a State Department spokesperson said, "We are working with a few dozen U.S. citizens and their families who have indicated they are prepared to depart Afghanistan and have the necessary travel documents to do so. ... The number of U.S. citizens remaining in Afghanistan who wish to leave fluctuates regularly."
"We will continue our efforts to facilitate the safe and orderly travel of U.S. citizens, [lawful permanent residents], and other Afghan allies and their eligible family members. We will not be sharing details of these efforts."