A group of House GOP party leaders and veterans of the Afghanistan war on Tuesday hammered President Joe Biden’s handling of the U.S. withdrawal and said they’d use next week’s House Armed Services Committee markup of defense authorization legislation to keep up the pressure.
“Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee will be fighting for amendments to the National Defense Authorization Act next week when we mark up that bill to do what the Biden administration has failed to do,” said Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, a Navy veteran of the war.
The House Armed Services Committee will mark up the annual Pentagon policy bill on Sept. 1.
In a press conference outside of the Capitol, the lawmakers accused Biden of “leaving Americans behind enemy lines” in Afghanistan and called his refusal to extend his Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces a mistake.
The comments come as thousands of newly deployed troops are working to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies from Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport following the collapse of the Afghan government and the takeover of the country by the Taliban.
“We want Biden’s focus to be on rescuing every American who he left behind enemy lines, and a full accounting of who they are, and we’re going to continue to press for legislation on the House floor this week to confront that," said GOP Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana.
According to the White House, the U.S. has evacuated about 37,000 people from Afghanistan since Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug.15. But the administration has declined to say exactly how many Americans might still be in Afghanistan.
“Biden needs to come clean with the total number of Americans being left behind enemy lines,” said Scalise.
On Monday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters that officials had contacted every American they know to be in Afghanistan “every way we know how.” Sullivan said that some U.S. citizens did not notify the government of their entry into or departure from Afghanistan before the Taliban seized power.
Rep. Michael Waltz of Florida, a former Army Green Beret who served in Afghanistan, said Biden should extend his deadline to get American citizens out of the country.
“We are on the cusp of the biggest mass hostage crisis this country has ever seen. This will make 1979 Tehran look like a sleepover,” said Waltz, referencing the Iranian revolution during which 52 American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for over a year.
Scalise echoed the sentiment, saying Biden should tell the world “we’re not going to operate on some arbitrary deadline.”
Focus on lost equipment
Some of the lawmakers raised concerns about the military hardware left behind in Afghanistan.
“As a former military sales officer, I acquired American military equipment to equip the Afghans with — you can imagine how shameful I find it that today all of that equipment has fallen into the hands of the Taliban,” said Banks, who deployed to Afghanistan in 2014.
“Because of the negligence of this administration, and the hasty retreat, they’ve left $85 billion worth of American equipment to our enemy, the Taliban. The Taliban now have more Black Hawk helicopters than 85 percent of the countries in the world,” Banks said.
Rep. Jake Ellzey, R-Texas, who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Navy fighter pilot, said leaving helicopters and planes was dangerous even if the Taliban are not capable of flying them.
“We have enemies such as China, Russia and Iran who are more than capable of either buying them or stealing them,” Ellzey said.
Among the technology left behind by U.S. forces are biometric devices, which house the fingerprints, retinal scans and biographic information of Afghans who aided American troops during the two decades-long war, Banks said.
“There is no plan to get these weapons back,” said Banks.
Rep. Ronny Jackson, R-Texas, an Iraq War Navy veteran, said Biden should resign over his handling of the withdrawal.
“We need a commander-in-chief, and we haven’t had one for a long time. Biden cannot handle this crisis he’s created,” Jackson said.