- The Washington Times
Friday, September 24, 2021

The top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee is calling on President Biden to declassify intelligence assessments amid a standoff between lawmakers and the administration over facts behind the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, Rep. Michael T. McCaul of Texas said the public deserves a full account of what led to the violence and disruption in the final days of the two-decade war.

“The administration owes the public transparency on the reports and assessments that informed the president’s April 14 withdrawal decision and ultimately led to abandoning hundreds of Americans, thousands of U.S. legal permanent residents, and tens of thousands of Special Immigrant Visa applicants and other Afghans at risk,” the lawmaker wrote.

Mr. Blinken told the House panel earlier this month that there was no U.S. intelligence pointing to an imminent collapse of the Afghan government and the lightning victory of the Taliban insurgency.  The administration has continued to stand by the claim, though many lawmakers are skeptical that the Taliban’s swift takeover was completely unforeseeable.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor Thursday his committee has been focused on reviewing intelligence estimates on the Afghan government’s ability to remain in power.

“We’re still in the midst of that,” the California Democrat said. “But I can, I think, say generally that the [intelligence community] continually over the last couple of years, provided increasingly pessimistic assessments of the Afghan government’s ability to maintain itself” without U.S. and allied military support

Mr. Schiff added that, throughout his review, he has not seen an intelligence analysis that specifically predicted the Kabul government and the Afghan armed forces would collapse as quickly as it did.

“Nonetheless, the trend was pretty clear,” he said. “And as time passed on and you saw surrenders of different provinces, you could see the acceleration of the fall of the government.”

Mr. Schiff said the assessments raised questions about what the U.S. military planned for as they began withdrawing, and how that plan was executed.

“And so I think we have to take a very cool objective look at the end state of our presence there,” he said.  

Other open-source reports have added to lawmakers’ skepticism.

Mr. McCaul’s letter noted a June Wall Street Journal report highlighting intelligence assessments that suggested the Afghan government could fall to the Taliban within six months of the U.S. withdrawal. The reporting differed from the Biden administration’s public claims that the Afghan government could remain in place for years.  

Mr. McCaul is specifically requesting what the Biden Cabinet was told about the Taliban’s capabilities and goals for overtaking Afghanistan, as well as the assessed timeline for a Taliban takeover.

The lawmaker is also calling for the administration to come forward with their assessment of the U.S.-backed Afghan security forces’ capabilities to counter a Taliban offensive, and the consequences of pulling out of Bagram Air Base before all U.S. citizens and Afghan partners were evacuated. He is also requesting intelligence threat assessments related to the Aug. 26 ISIS-K attack at Kabul’s international airport, which killed 13 US. service members and more than 160 Afghans.

Weeks after the U.S. completed its longest war, Republican lawmakers remain in a standoff with Mr.  Biden, charging that his administration is stonewalling requests for basic information.

Members of Mr. McCaul’s staff said Thursday that he has still not received a response from the State Department or the Pentagon after sending a letter two weeks ago inquiring about what steps the administration is taking to secure family members of his constituents that remain trapped in Afghanistan.

Mr. McCaul told CNN Wednesday that members of his committee “walked out” of a classified briefing by Biden administration officials after the officials sidestepped questions over the evacuation effort for the American citizens and Afghan allies that remain in the country.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican, echoed Mr. McCaul’s frustration.

“Secretary Blinken didn’t give us appropriate answers,” Mr. Kinzinger told CNN. “I’ve sent official letters to ask how many people were even pulled out of Afghanistan. … We have no answers on that.”

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.