WASHINGTON (CN) — Congressional Republicans plan to use the bully pulpit of their new House majority to take the Biden administration to task this week over its decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
Critics of the 2021 withdrawal have complained both about its planning and execution. The GOP in particular frames the move as a military and diplomatic failure that caused the unnecessary deaths of both U.S. servicemembers and Afghan citizens.
This week, that consternation is likely to be directed at Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is scheduled to testify Thursday before the Republican-led House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Ahead of the hearing, committee chair Michael McCaul penned a letter to demand that the State Department provide several long-requested documents that he says are critical to the committee’s understanding of the Afghanistan withdrawal.
Among those items, the Texas Republican requested a copy of a specialized communications mechanism designed to allow State Department staff to provide alternative opinions on developing foreign policy issues.
McCaul alleges that U.S. embassy officials in Kabul sent a cable through this program — known as a dissent channel — to warned of Taliban advances across Afghanistan in the months following the April 2021 withdrawal announcement.
“The Dissent Channel cable provides key contemporaneous evidence from U.S. officials on the ground in Afghanistan,” the congressman wrote Tuesday. “The Department’s formal response similarly offers critical insight into Department leadership’s view of these concerns and what actions they took to address them.”
McCaul complained that the State Department has been sluggish to provide the committee with the dissent channel information, noting that the foreign affairs panel had requested it as far back as August 2021 under the leadership of Democratic chairman Gregory Meeks.
“While the State Department has expressed some general reluctance to produce this item, it has failed to provide any legal justification for having withheld it from Congress to date,” McCaul argued.
The lawmaker also instructed Blinken to send along an after-action report on the withdrawal written by U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Daniel Smith, and which McCaul contends was finalized over the summer. “Despite the Department’s stated commitment to transparency, it has yet to make this review available to the Committee,” he said. “The stalled release and ambiguous status of the review are inexplicable given that it was known to be in the process of finalization more than six months ago.”
McCaul set Wednesday as the deadline for the State Department to provide the requested documents. The congressman has said that he would be willing to issue a subpoena if Blinken does not supply the documents in time for the Thursday hearing.
The agency has said it could take a while to produce the requested documents due to the volume of information, and that it is committed to providing a response as soon as possible.
The Biden administration’s April 2021 announcement that U.S. troops would leave Afghanistan culminated in August of that year, when U.S. embassy staff and other noncombatants evacuated the country. An attack at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport that took place during the evacuation killed 13 U.S. soldiers and more than 150 Afghan citizens.
Although Blinken is sure to face House Republicans’ ire Thursday over Afghanistan, the secretary of state will likely also be questioned about U.S. involvement in Russia’s war against Ukraine, which dragged into its second year in late February.
Florida Governor and possible Republican presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis faced backlash from his own party last week for calling the war in Ukraine a distraction from other U.S. policy priorities.
“While the U.S. has many vital national interests —securing our borders, addressing the crisis of readiness within our military, achieving energy and security independence, and checking the economic, cultural, and military power of the Chinese Communist Party — becoming further entangled in a territorial dispute between Ukraine and Russia is not one of them,” DeSantis said March 13 in response to a questionnaire provided by Fox News.
Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The ensuing war, which Moscow has positioned as a move to demilitarize the country and protect its Russian-speaking residents, has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions.
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