Afghanistan withdrawal review: McCaul calls Kirby’s comments ‘disgraceful’

Photo: Reuters.

The Republican chairman of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday criticized the White House for dismissing the idea that the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was chaotic and shifting the blame on the Trump administration for creating unfavorable conditions for the pullout.

“John Kirby’s comments during today’s White House press briefing were disgraceful and insulting. President Biden made the decision to withdraw and even picked the exact date; he is responsible for the massive failures in planning and execution,” McCaul said in a statement.

Kirby spoke to reporters shortly after the Pentagon and State Department provided classified reviews of the decision-making process around the withdrawal. At the same time, the White House released its own 12-page outline that largely pinned the blame for the challenges around the withdrawal on the Trump administration, while acknowledging there were lessons to be applied to future operations.

McCaul said he is looking forward to reviewing the report and urged the administration to declassify as much as possible for the public.

“Finally, Congress must be given access to the full and complete record of documents from the withdrawal in order to get the answers on why the withdrawal was such a disaster,” he said.

“This review was an important step to inform future DoD decision-making, and we will continue to support other reviews, including the Afghanistan War Commission’s efforts to review the full 20 years of the war,” US Defense Secretary LIyod Austin said. “I strongly believe that a thoughtful and comprehensive examination of the entirety of America’s longest war by the Commission will be an important contribution to the nation.”

Meanwhile, US House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer in a statement on the Biden Administration’s review of the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal and announced a full committee hearing on April 19, 2023, said, “The American people are owed answers about the Biden Administration’s disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal but all they are getting are excuses from this Administration.”

He said President Biden and his administration made several blunders during the withdrawal that led to the deaths of 13 service members, left Americans stranded, and allowed US military equipment to fall into the hands of the Taliban.”

Since the withdrawal, the Biden Administration has been slow to provide information to Congress and has even obstructed the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s (SIGAR) congressionally mandated investigations, he added.

The White House on Thursday sent a report to Congress on the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 and blamed the chaos on a deal former President Donald Trump made with the Taliban a year earlier.

The document remains confidential but a summary of the review’s conclusions was released on Thursday night.

In a press conference on Thursday night, President Joe Biden’s national security spokesman, John Kirby, blamed the chaos on Trump’s Doha deal and said Biden had “acted in accordance with the best judgment of his advisers”.

Asked whether any officials involved with the withdrawal would be removed from their posts as a result of the report, Kirby said its purpose “is not accountability”.

“After-action reviews are a very common practice. They are not investigations. They are not criminal proceedings,” Kirby said. “The idea is to learn from them.”

The White House summary states that “President Trump ordered direct talks with the Taliban without consulting with
our allies and partners or allowing the Afghan government at the negotiating table. In September 2019, President Trump emboldened the Taliban by publicly considering inviting them to Camp David on the anniversary of 9/11.”

Listing other decisions taken by Trump, the summary states that as a result of Trump’s actions, the Taliban were in the strongest military position that they had been in since 2001, when Biden took office. With the Doha agreement in place, Biden faced the prospect of dealing with the resumption of attacks against US forces if he failed to withdraw the troops.

The summary stated: “Secretary of Defense [Lloyd] Austin testified on September 28, 2021, ‘the intelligence was clear that if we did not leave in accordance with that agreement, the Taliban would recommence attacks on our forces.”

On ‘planning for the withdrawal’, the summary stated that the departing Trump Administration had left the Biden Administration with a date for withdrawal, but no plan for executing it.