US Congress to investigate Biden administration over Afghanistan

'We are now witnessing the horrifying result of many years of policy and intelligence failures,' Democratic senator says

Senator Robert Menendez, Democratic chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee. Bloomberg
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The US Congress will investigate President Joe Biden and his administration over their handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal that resulted in a Taliban takeover and stranded thousands of Afghans who have worked with western forces over the past two decades.

Calls for accountability have come both from Republicans and from within Mr Biden’s own Democratic Party, as frustration mounts over the humiliating end to America’s longest war and the extent to which successive administrations misled the US public is laid bare.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner, chair of the Intelligence Committee, said he intends to work with other committees "to ask tough but necessary questions" about why the US was not better prepared for the collapse of the Afghan government.

“The images from Afghanistan that we’ve seen in recent days are devastating,” Mr Warner said in a statement.

We must learn “why we weren’t better prepared for a worst-case scenario involving such a swift and total collapse of the Afghan government and security forces. We owe those answers to the American people and to all those who served and sacrificed so much.”

The Afghanistan crisis is taking a toll on Mr Biden’s political fortunes and has dented his administration’s carefully crafted image of competence.

While it is now clear the Pentagon and the State Department for years overstated the capabilities of the Afghan security forces and the former Kabul government, it was on Mr Biden’s watch that the Taliban won the war.

According to a Reuters-Ipsos poll this week, his approval rating dropped by 7 percentage points to 46 per cent – its lowest level since he took office in January.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez, a Democrat, said his panel will seek a “full accounting” of what happened in Afghanistan.

“I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid US withdrawal,” Mr Menendez said in a statement.

“We are now witnessing the horrifying results of many years of policy and intelligence failures.”

Mr Menendez also took aim at former president Donald Trump, whose administration signed a withdrawal deal with the Taliban last year, granting the hardliners sweeping concessions in return for a promise they’d stop attacking US forces.

In a letter to Mr Menendez, committee Republicans said they wanted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to testify, "to understand why the State Department was so ill-prepared for the contingencies unfolding before us".

"Updates from the State Department have been inconsistent, lacked important detail, and not responsive to members and the American people," the Republicans wrote.

Mr Blinken has been particularly criticised for saying the fall of Kabul "is manifestly not Saigon", a reference to the chaos in the former South Vietnamese capital in 1975 as America lost the Vietnam War.

If anything, the images of desperate Afghans clinging to the side of a taxiing US C-17 cargo plane are even more indelible.

Mr Biden has admitted that the speed of the Afghan military’s rout and the collapse of the Kabul government had unfolded “more quickly than we had expected.”

But he has taken only partial responsibility for the crisis, saying “the buck stops with me” even as he sought to blame Afghanistan’s former government, Mr Trump’s deal and the refusal of many Afghan troops to fight.

Mr Biden on Wednesday insisted the Afghanistan withdrawal was always going to end in bedlam.

"We're gonna go back in hindsight and look, but the idea that somehow there's a way to have gotten out without chaos ensuing, I don't know how that happens," he told ABC News.

In the House of Representatives, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks said he has invited Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to testify about explain the Biden administration’s strategy for evacuating US citizens, Afghan allies and other vulnerable people from the country in the wake of the Taliban takeover.

“The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly changing and it is imperative that the administration provide the American people and Congress transparency about its Afghanistan strategy,” Mr Meeks, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.

The decisions Mr Biden has made in recent days could haunt him and his party in 2022 when the Democrats already face steep odds of retaining control of Congress after the mid-term elections.

He is hoping that most Americans will eventually credit him more for ending a loathed war than they will punish him for its chaotic final days.

Agencies contributed to this report.

Joe Biden insists Afghanistan withdrawal was right move amid chaotic scenes in Kabul

Joe Biden insists Afghanistan withdrawal was right move amid chaotic scenes in Kabul

Updated: August 18, 2021, 9:23 PM