Specter of Afghanistan debacle haunts Biden
Americans still remember the scandal of the withdrawal of the country’s military forces from Afghanistan and the chaos that followed. Many believe that the commander-in-chief of the US forces should be held accountable and explain what happened on the ground.
A congressional hearing was held this month to evaluate President Joe Biden’s plan to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan. The hearing allowed lawmakers to assess the effectiveness of the withdrawal plan and its potential consequences. The situation in Afghanistan has become increasingly complex since the withdrawal of US troops in August 2021. The Afghan government quickly collapsed and the Taliban seized control of the country.
The House Oversight Committee hearing was a stark reminder of the stunning failures of leadership that plagued the US government’s handling of the conflict for two decades. It was a platform for both lawmakers and military officials to air their grievances and point fingers at one another, with little consensus on the best course of action moving forward.
At a March House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the subject, Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews, 25, who was nearly killed in the deadly terrorist attack at Kabul airport during the withdrawal, emotionally told lawmakers how bad the situation was. “I opened my eyes to Marines dead or unconscious lying around me … My body was overwhelmed from the trauma of the blast,” he said.
The suicide bombing at an airport checkpoint claimed the lives of 13 US service members and 170 Afghan civilians, who were trying to make it out of their country out of fear.
One of the most significant issues that emerged during the hearing was the lack of a clear and coherent strategy for the withdrawal. The Biden administration’s decision to complete the withdrawal of troops by the end of August was clearly not thought through, and the sudden announcement left little time to prepare for the inevitable chaos that would ensue.
The whole world witnessed on live TV the severe shortcomings in the execution of the withdrawal plan.
In February, the Pentagon released its findings on the attack in Kabul, noting that the suicide attack was not preventable. However, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Mike McCaul accused the Biden administration of failing to properly plan for the fallout of the withdrawal.
The Republican congressman stressed in his opening remarks at the March hearing that more than 1,000 US citizens and an estimated 200,000 Afghan allies and partners were left behind. “I want every gold and blue star family member and every veteran out there watching this today to know that I will not rest, and this committee will not rest, until we determine how this happened and hold those responsible for it accountable,” he added.
The whole world witnessed on live TV the severe shortcomings in the execution of the withdrawal plan and the failure to evacuate US citizens and allies in a timely and efficient manner. The sight of desperate Afghans clinging to departing planes was a harrowing reminder of the human cost of this failure.
The House hearing also highlighted the US government’s lack of accountability and transparency. Lawmakers and military officials were quick to blame one another, with little indication that anyone was willing to take responsibility for the disastrous outcome of the withdrawal.
Moving forward, it is essential that the US should take a long, hard look at its role in Afghanistan and make a concerted effort to learn from its mistakes. This means acknowledging the failures of the two-decade conflict and the withdrawal, while taking steps to address the underlying issues that contributed to these failures.
The American and Afghan publics and US allies deserve to know what went wrong in Afghanistan and who is responsible. Being involved in the Ukraine war and the escalating tensions with China should not give Biden and his Cabinet members a free pass. The specter of the war in Afghanistan will haunt the US president and his commanders until justice is served.
The question remains, will Biden be willing to take responsibility for his mistakes and work to rectify them? Don’t count on it.
- Dalia Al-Aqidi is a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy. Twitter: @DaliaAlAqidi