Congressional leaders are planning hearings into the bungled departure of American forces in Afghanistan and the collapse of the democratic government there, saying that U.S. leaders must never again repeat the same mistakes.
On Monday, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., said the failures seen in Afghanistan in recent days “have been manifesting over four presidential administrations of both political parties” and that the result “is not a Democratic or a Republican problem.”
“There are no easy answers to how we got here,” he said. “Several factors over the last 20 years of war in Afghanistan have shaped this outcome and must be considered as we move forward and engage in future conflicts.”
About 6,000 American service members have been deployed back to Afghanistan in recent days in an effort to help evacuate thousands of U.S. citizens and foreign allies endangered by the advance of Taliban forces throughout the country.
Over the weekend, Taliban fighters advanced into the capital city of Kabul, prompting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to flee the country, effectively ending the democratically elected government’s hold on power there.
In a national address Monday, President Joe Biden defended his decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in recent months, saying he was constrained by a cease-fire agreement negotiated by former President Donald Trump with Taliban leaders. Staying beyond the summer would have led to significant fighting and the loss of more American lives, he argued.
Still, Biden acknowledged mistakes in the withdrawal, including the slow pace of evacuations of American embassy staff and Afghans seeking asylum in the United States. He blamed both Afghan politicians and security forces for not putting up more of a fight against the Taliban advance.
“It is wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s own armed forces would not,” he said.
But many Republican lawmakers, including Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., pointed to Biden’s decisions as the tipping point for Afghanistan.
“President Biden is focused only on politically justifying his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan — the same decision that has trapped thousands of American citizens and Afghan partners who are now trying desperately to get out,” Inhofe said in a statement. “To be clear, the responsibility for the frantic evacuation lies solely with the president.”
Reed disagreed, instead pointing to long-term problems in the Afghanistan stabilization mission, including “a disastrous pivot to a war of choice in Iraq, a failure to have an effective policy to deal with a duplicitous Pakistan, a failure of mission creep from counter-terrorism, and a lack of ability to build an effective Afghan government and security forces.”
For now, much of the partisan fighting over the president’s strategy has been tempered by the unfolding emergency at the Kabul airport, where thousands of individuals are still looking to evacuate.
Reed said that, for now, “the focus should be on safely evacuating U.S. citizens and Afghans who aided us.” Hearings on the missteps will come “at the appropriate time.”
House Armed Services Committee leaders have not committed to any public review of the Afghanistan situation but are likely to follow suit. The House is scheduled to return to town next week, with committee debate on the annual defense authorization bill set for early September.
Senate lawmakers are scheduled to return from their summer recess early next month.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.