Top Republican slams White House for allowing Afghan women ‘to be erased from society’

Women activists at a library in Kabul. Sept. 2022/ File photo.

US House Foreign Affairs Committee Lead Republican Michael McCaul has lashed out at the Biden administration for not having had a plan to protect Afghan women whom he says “are being erased from society”.

In a letter to the US State Department calling for oversight into Washington’s response to the Taliban’s repression of women and girls in Afghanistan McCaul stated: “It has been clear for the past year that this Administration had no real plan to protect the rights of Afghan women post-withdrawal, and that the evacuation itself failed them.”

This comes amid a growing list of restrictions by the Taliban against women in Afghanistan following the chaotic withdrawal of foreign forces and the sudden collapse of the former government in August last year.

McCaul’s letter, sent to Katrina Fotovat, Senior Bureau Official of the Office of Global Women’s Issues at the US State Department, slams the Biden Administration stating members of the committee have been deeply troubled over the failure of the US to match words with deeds regarding the situation of Afghan women and girls.

“While Secretary Antony Blinken claims to be ‘committed to the advancement of Afghan women’s entrepreneurship, employment, and educational opportunities in Afghanistan and around the world,’ the reality is that this Administration presided over an evacuation and a series of policy decisions that have been catastrophic for them,” he said.

To that end, he mapped out a list of questions, giving a December 9 deadline for answers.

According to him, State Department figures indicate that only 25 percent of those evacuated from Kabul in August last year were women. “How does your office account for this disparity?” he asked in the letter.

He also asked what policy actions were taken by the state department to ensure that women were given at least an equal opportunity to evacuate from Afghanistan.

Another question was what criteria did the state department use to select women to prioritize in evacuations and how many women have been evacuated in total, including those classified as at risk.

In addition, he asked for clarity on the US Special Envoy for Afghan Women, Girls, and Human Rights Rina Amiri’s responsibilities, for her travel schedule since assuming her current role and a list of all meetings Amiri has had since assuming her role.

US House Foreign Affairs Committee lead Republican Michael McCaul. Photo: Reuters

“What have been Ambassador Amiri’s tangible successes on behalf of Afghan women and girls during her engagement with the Taliban?” he also asked.

His final question was what specific programs is the state department currently operating, or planning to operate, to support women in Afghanistan?

Probe planned into chaotic withdrawal

In addition to the letter, McCaul also told Fox News on Saturday that the Republicans are laying out plans to investigate the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

He said getting to the bottom of the deadly Afghanistan exit is a top priority, which included the bombing on August 26, 2021, that killed at least 183 people, including 13 members of the US military.

“Afghanistan will be a major area of focus, and it’s important because of our veterans. They ask me a question, ‘was it worth it?’ And they want to know why things went so badly. And never have had the answers as to why it went the way it did,” McCaul said.

“The Taliban was put in charge of the perimeter, the suicide bomber came in and killed 13 servicemen and women. And then American citizens left behind and a hundred thousand Afghan partners that we promised we would protect them [are] at the mercy of the Taliban. Now China is in there,” McCaul said.

He went on to say that the Afghanistan exit helped embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin to stage the largest invasion in Europe since World War II.

“All of our adversaries are emboldened and empowered now… And it’s not by coincidence, it’s by design. And they’re all interconnected,” McCaul warned.

“But it’s hard when they [veterans] look at China is in [Afghanistan] with $1 trillion of lithium and will most likely get access to Bagram Air Base and which were our eyes and ears in Russia, China and Iran.”

Letter to Blinken

McCaul’s letter Saturday to the state department, and his comments about the withdrawal, come just a month after he wrote to Secretary of State Antony Blinken requesting the department preserve all documents related to the withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.

His request is part of his effort to exercise oversight of the US exit from Afghanistan, probing the death of 13 US service members in a terrorist attack at the time, the melting away of the Kabul government in the face of the Taliban takeover and the chaotic evacuation efforts.

He wrote that “it is imperative that you remind all Department employees and officials of their legal responsibilities to collect, retain, and preserve documents, communications, and other records in accordance with federal law, including the Federal Records Act and related regulations.”

A preservation of records request is a popular tool for the minority party in Congress to telegraph its priorities, even if it holds little concrete authority.

Still, the request is also viewed as laying the groundwork for possible subpoena requests if Republicans become the majority party in the House after the results of the midterm elections are in. If the Republicans win the House, McCaul is likely to become the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.