G.O.P. Inquiry on Afghan Withdrawal Opens With Searing Witness Accounts

WASHINGTON — A Marine sergeant who survived a suicide bombing in Kabul and a paramedic who cared for those at the scene tearfully told Congress on Wednesday that they had suffered. physical and emotional scars from the chaotic 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, putting a human side on a grim chapter for the Biden administration as Republicans open an investigation into what happened.

During a six-hour hearing on Capitol Hill, members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard harsh reports and engaged in a fierce partisan debate about who was responsible for failed withdrawals – considered “moral” and “moral failure”. Republicans, Democrats and witnesses testified – killing 13 US service members and many Afghans.

“Every inch of my exposed body, except for my face, is affected,” said Marine Sgt. Tyler Vargas-Andrews told lawmakers, crying as he talked about how his body was ripped open. August 26, 2021 explosion at the international airport in Kabul. “The 11 Marines, one sailor and one soldier who were killed that day remain unanswered.”

Aidan Gunderson, a former Army specialist, described how he cared for wounded service members and the bodies of Afghans who fell while trying to cling to the landing gear of planes taking off from the field. Fly and try to help the common people stuck into the airport.

“I have managed to save countless marines. We all tried our best. It’s been a nightmare,” Gunderson said, his voice cracking.

“I still carry with me the horrible sights of Abbey Gate, even the smell. Mothers holding dead children, the Taliban mercilessly beating people and civilians begging for their lives,” Gunderson said. “I see the faces of the people we couldn’t save, all the people we left behind.”

Their accounts created a sombre backdrop to the start of the House GOP investigation into Afghanistan, the investigation Republicans have promised to task President Biden with the failings of the House GOP. mass airlift out of Kabul’s airport.

The panel’s first Afghanistan hearing was the culmination of an 18-month effort by the panel’s chairman, Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, who pursued an investigation into the State Department’s role in the evacuate as a minority group. While it yielded few revelations, the testimony seemed to reinforce Mr. McCaul’s assertion that the pullout was more chaotic and deadly than necessary.

“This is a waiver of the most fundamental mission of the United States government: to protect Americans and leave no one behind,” McCaul said, adding that “the nation has suffered the damage. emotional trauma from what happened.”

The Chairman was particularly interested in the testimony of Mr. Vargas-Andrews, who said he was in a sniper tower at the airport on the day of the explosion and had spotted a person in the crowd matching the description. of a suspected suicide bomber just hours. before the attack. He said he warned his superiors, but then they neither listened nor sought his testimony.

“Clearly and simply, we were ignored. Our expertise has been overlooked. No one is responsible for our safety,” said Mr. Vargas-Andrews. “It makes me feel like my service is not valued by this country, the government.”

Mr. McCaul was also intrigued by Mr. Vargas-Andrews’ account of how State Department officials at the airport shut down operations nightly, slowing the processing of potential and potentially dangerous evacuees. danger to service members trying to maintain order amid chaos. He promised to make those allegations an investigative line in his panel’s investigation.

On-site testimony has sometimes put Democrats in a difficult position, as they sought to delay the experience of witnesses while also protecting the Biden administration from Republican attacks.

“It is not President Biden that sets an absolute withdrawal date; that’s President Trump, and it all cleared up from there,” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia.

At one point, Representative Dina Titus, a Democrat from Nevada, asked why witnesses had never publicly raised concerns about Afghanistan under the Trump administration.

“The hindsight is 20/20, and if we had joined earlier, we might not have so much to criticize later on,” she said.

The comment drew a harsh response from one of the witnesses.

Retired lieutenant colonel David Scott Mann, who formed a group calling itself Task Force Pineapple to help evacuate Americans and Afghans, said: “The reality is we’re living our lives. “We were drawn back into this not by our own will, but by a series of circumstances that we could not bear.”


Almost all of the witnesses also called on Congress to expand access to the special immigrant visa program to provide many Afghans with permanent residence. Republicans have generally resisted any move to expand immigration, and supporters have blamed Republican leaders for thwarting efforts to help more Afghan refugees.

Camille Mackler, a lawyer and executive director of Immigrant ARC who also testified, pleaded with McCaul, an advocate of expanding the special visa program for Afghans, to work to convince convince his colleagues to support the move.

“Help us change our immigration laws so we can get rid of them,” she said.


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