On March 8th, the House Foreign Affairs Committee held its first hearing on the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The two prevailing themes were either that the United States should still have soldiers dying in Afghanistan to successfully complete the forever just-out-of-reach nation building project, or that the withdrawal was necessary with the only criticism being that more Afghans were not brought to the United States. Little to no examination of the disastrous decision making that led to the delay of the American withdrawal until what every soldier that served in Afghanistan knows is the heart of the fighting season.
The original withdrawal deal reached between the Taliban and the U.S. government called for all American troops to be withdrawn by May 2021 at the start of the fighting season. After the Biden administration came into office there was much speculation as to whether they would adhere to the deal or disregard it and leave American troops in Afghanistan. After months of preparation time was lost to debating the politics of the withdrawal — and no doubt with pressure from senior military leaders to give them more time to implement the same failed but still favored counter insurgency doctrine — the administration decided to continue with the withdrawal but delay until the symbolic date of September 11th. The Taliban would not delay their offensive and the resulting calamitous withdrawal was the result.
There was powerful testimony from Sergeant Tyler Vargas-Andrews, where he told the story of the suicide bomber that killed thirteen American servicemen outside of the Abbey Gate leading to HKIA (Hamid Karzai International Airport). The suicide bomber targeted the American servicemen as they were conducting the dangerous task of sorting the oncoming mob of Afghan civilians attempting to flee the Taliban takeover of the country by descending on the airport in Kabul, the last area controlled by the Americans.
Montgomery County’s representative, Madeleine Dean, had an emotional reaction to the testimony, “I come to this hearing awash with awe, in all of you, sadness. With the reality of this war and other wars of course. But I also come to it with great humility. Knowing that I can’t get near what you do, what you’ve done, what you’ve sacrificed. I can’t get near it.” (3:48)
But, along with most of her other colleagues on the Foreign Affairs Committee, later that night Dean voted no on House Resolution 21 that would have directed the President to remove American military personnel from Syria. Perhaps because she is so removed from the dangers of combat, she voted to keep American soldiers in the middle of a civil war that involves tribal, ethnic, and religious that generals and politicians in Washington, D.C. know little about and has little to no impact on the safety and security of the American people.
Congresswoman Dean went on to say “I do think this is important to bring out the facts, the truth about the end of this war.” There are important questions for our elected representatives to ask in these hearings. Why was the withdrawal date pushed back? Why was Bagram Air Force Base closed before the evacuation was complete? What rules of engagement were in place for those soldiers put in such a difficult situation? Was anyone in the chain of command leading to the drone strike that killed nine Afghan civilians including seven children even so much as disciplined?
Congresswoman Dean would also benefit from reading the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction’s report on lessons learned from Afghanistan and how those lessons can be applied to U.S. current U.S. foreign policy. These lessons include a lack of understanding of the situational context, lack of strategy, timeline, sustainability, monitoring and evaluation. All of these principles are currently lacking in the American military’s intervention in Syria. God forbid another American soldier die in Syria for a futile mission that the inept politicians in Washington had a chance to stop.
Shane McCarver lives in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, and was a sergeant in the U.S. Army. He worked for three years as a defense contractor in Afghanistan, leaving for the last time in July 2021.