McCaul threatens to subpoena State over Afghan withdrawal documents

Photo: Reuters.

The US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul threatened to subpoena the US State Department if it continues to withhold documents on the ‘catastrophic’ troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021.

In an interview on CBS‘ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, McCaul discussed the committee’s ongoing efforts to get answers from the Biden administration on the withdrawal and said he is prepared to issue a subpoena if the State Department fails to comply with the committee’s document request ahead of Secretary Antony Blinken’s testimony later this month.

On Wednesday last week, the house held its first hearings on the withdrawal and in his opening remarks, McCaul said the chaotic withdrawal of US troops and evacuation of Americans from Afghanistan was a systemic breakdown of the federal government at every level, “and a stunning, stunning failure of leadership by the Biden administration.”

He said the US now knows it left more than 1,000 American citizens behind, and almost 200,000 Afghan partners and allies that Washington promised to save and he described the horrific scenes of thousands of desperate people trying to leave the country through Kabul airport from August of 2021.

Then on August 26 a suicide bomber killed about 170 Afghans and 13 US servicemembers.

Attending the hearing on Wednesday were two US servicemen who survived the explosion – Marine Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews and former Army Specialist Aidan Gunderson. Both gave a first-hand account of what it was like inside the Kabul airport during those final two weeks.

Vargas-Andrews testified that US forces had received intel of a planned attack just hours before the bombing. He said a description of the suicide bomber and his companion had been given to the US military.

However, when the suicide bomber and his accomplice were spotted, Vargas-Andrews’ chain of command failed to give him the go-ahead to shoot.

In response to this, McCaul said on CBS: “This [was] the first open hearing we’ve had on Afghanistan since the fall of Afghanistan. I intend to move forward with this investigation and want what that commanding officer was thinking when he denied permission to take out a threat and what levels did it go to within the United States government? I think those are all very important questions.”

On the issue of subpoenas if the State Department continues to withhold documents, McCaul said: “The State Department has not been compliant with our document request. I met with the secretary (Antony Blinken). We had a very cordial conversation. Cooperation is always key. But they’re not cooperating. If he fails to cooperate with my document production request by, you know, the time he testifies on March 23rd, I am prepared to issue a subpoena.”

He said the documents he specifically wants are the Dissent Channel cable reportedly sent on July 13, 2021, by 23 State Department officials and the Department’s response to it; the After-Action Report prepared under Ambassador Daniel Smith; and two iterations of U.S. Embassy Kabul’s Emergency Action Plan (EAP).

McCaul said the US embassy in Kabul at the time should have had an evacuation plan – “Just a simple plan of evacuation. What was your plan? They have failed to deliver that to Congress. Those are three key areas that we want to see compliance with.”