WASHINGTON — House Republicans on Wednesday will hold their first hearing on the botched 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan since they took back the majority.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee, led by Chairman Mike McCaul, R-Texas, will hear from a handful of veterans of the Afghanistan war, some of whom were directly affected by the disastrous evacuation, in which 13 U.S. service members were killed and 20 others were injured in a terrorist attack near the Kabul airport. As many as 170 civilians were also killed.
In a 115-page interim report released last fall, McCaul blamed President Joe Biden’s administration for the chaos at the airport, saying it had failed to properly plan for the fallout of the withdrawal.
“What happened in Afghanistan was a systemic breakdown of the federal government at every level — and a stunning failure of leadership by the Biden administration. As a result, the world watched heartbreaking scenes unfold in and around the Kabul airport,” McCaul said in a statement.
“I want every gold and blue star family member, and every veteran out there who watch this hearing to know: I will not rest until we determine how this happened — and hold those accountable responsible,” he added.
The U.S. also left behind Afghan allies, including an estimated 78,000 who worked for the U.S. government and applied for special visas, according to a report last year from the Association of Wartime Allies, a nonprofit nongovernmental organization.
Several GOP-led committees, including the House Armed Services and Oversight panels, are investigating the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. But in inviting veterans to testify Wednesday, the Foreign Affairs Committee wants to draw attention to the human toll of the chaotic withdrawal.
Among those testifying will be Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, who was deployed with his sniper team to the Kabul airport to help with the evacuation. He was nearly killed in the bombing at Abbey Gate on Aug. 26, 2021. Vargas-Andrews lost multiple organs and two limbs, and he has had 44 operations since that day.
Others who will appear include Scott Mann, a former Green Beret who served multiple tours in Afghanistan and founded Task Force Pineapple, which helped evacuate roughly 1,000 Afghan allies from the country, and Aiden Gunderson, a former Army combat medic who was deployed twice to Afghanistan and assisted with the evacuation.
After the deadly attack at the Kabul airport, Biden pointed out that he inherited the deal his predecessor, Donald Trump, cut with the Taliban for U.S. forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021. Biden said it was the right decision to carry out the exit plan and end the two-decade war rather than send troops back in and escalate the conflict.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Biden said in a speech after the attack. “After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”
Haley Talbot contributed.