House GOP lawmakers reexamined shortfalls from the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan on Wednesday, scrutinizing the Biden administration for its handling of an evacuation that left several American service members dead and many Afghan allies stranded.
“What happened in Afghanistan was a systemic breakdown of the federal government at every level,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said during the hearing. McCaul, who chairs the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, previously blasted the administration in an interim report for leaving an estimated tens of thousands of at-risk Afghan allies behind.
Lawmakers on the panel met with volunteer and veteran-led groups that staged flights to aid Afghans looking to escape the country, and listened to dramatic retellings of the emotional events that unfolded in the final days of the Afghanistan war, including an attack at Hamid Karzai International Airport that killed 13 American service members and more than 100 Afghans.
Over 120,000 Afghans and Americans were evacuated during the August 2021 airlift, the Air Force previously said. As the Taliban seized control of the country, nearly 800 civilian and military aircraft from more than 30 nations participated in the evacuation.
“We didn’t have any resources, or battlefield access or time, but we had something that a lot of people didn’t — relationships and trust,” retired Lt. Col. Scott Mann told lawmakers. Mann, a former Green Beret, founded Task Force Pineapple, one of the groups that organized flights to lead Afghans to safety from the Taliban.
Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, 25, a Marine sniper who was stationed at the Kabul airport, gave lawmakers a firsthand account of the harrowing suicide bombing that left him and others severely injured.
“The withdrawal was a catastrophe in my opinion and there was an inexcusable lack of accountability and negligence,” said Vargas-Andrews, who spoke in the hearing in a personal capacity.
The committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., contended President Biden made the right choice pulling troops out of Afghanistan, but acknowledged that “there were mistakes along the way.”
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media