The White House prepared for harsh congressional inquiries as soon as President Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal started to go wrong, with chaos at Kabul’s airport, 13 American service members killed by a suicide bombing, and Afghans dying after falling from departing planes.
But up until this point, it had never had to deal with one from a strong opposition. Republicans’ plans to look into Biden’s son Hunter have received a lot of attention, but some White House and other administration officials privately believe an investigation into Afghanistan could be more emotionally taxing and divisive politically.
Even Democrats acknowledge that Congress has the right to examine a troubled military operation that resulted in the deaths of Americans and Afghans. The White House can and will dismiss any investigation into Hunter Biden as a conspiratorial witch hunt. Democrats may claim that the average American isn’t concerned about Hunter Biden’s business dealings, but few would make the same claim about the Afghan withdrawal.
The investigation would likely pick up steam right before President Biden begins his reelection campaign early in the following year. As desperate scenes from Kabul were broadcast around the world in the wake of the August 2021 withdrawal, Biden’s approval ratings plummeted. The investigation would likely bring up troubling issues like what happened to American interpreters who were left behind in Afghanistan.
According to current and former White House aides, Pentagon officials, and other administration members who spoke candidly about a highly sensitive subject under the condition of anonymity, that possibility worries some members of the Biden team.
The fact that lawmakers from both parties have already examined and published reports on the Afghan withdrawal gives White House officials some solace. They add that given how thoroughly the episode has been examined, they do not anticipate any hearings to yield a major revelation. Top administration figures have previously testified about the pullout, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
However, a probe run by House Republicans who are in charge of committees and have the authority to issue subpoenas is a different story, and GOP lawmakers have made it clear that Afghanistan will be a key focus of their inquiry.
After more than two decades of war, Biden’s decision to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan carried out a key campaign promise and achieved a long-term objective. The president argued that the Afghanistan operation, which was started following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, had lost its original purpose and had turned into an expensive, fruitless nation-building exercise.
The U.S.-backed government, however, stunned many observers by collapsing almost right away when the withdrawal of forces started, sending terrified Afghans to Kabul in the midst of scenes of mayhem and death. Thousands of people were eventually evacuated successfully, but many others remained behind.
Officials from the administration maintain that the choice to leave Afghanistan was a wise one, while admitting that they made mistakes and that they have since learned from them.
White House representatives also point to the recent death of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda and one of the most wanted terrorists in the world and a key architect of the September 11 attacks, by a U.S. drone strike. Although it highlighted a new world in which Zawahiri could live in downtown Kabul a short distance from the former U.S. Embassy, White House officials say the administration’s ability to execute such an operation despite having no troops on the ground was a vindication of the decision to withdraw.
Austin and other Defense Department officials “have testified extensively in open and closed hearings about the war in Afghanistan, including the U.S. drawdown and evacuation,” according to Sabrina Singh, a Pentagon spokeswoman. The department, she said, “respects the important oversight role that Congress plays, and will continue to work with the Congress on important national defense issues and to respond appropriately to legitimate Congressional inquiries, just as we always do.”
A State Department spokesman said the agency has engaged with Congress more than 150 times about Afghanistan this year and expects to continue that conversation with the new Congress next year.
The Defense Department pledged to carry out its own review of what happened but has not released the findings.