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Lawmakers Want To Know What Went Wrong With Afghanistan


There was bipartisan support in Congress for ending the 20-year war in Afghanistan, but the messy withdrawal and lack of a plan to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies frustrated members of both parties. Republicans and Democrats are demanding answers from the Biden administration about what comes next and what went wrong. NPR acting congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh has more.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: After Kabul fell, Minnesota Democratic Congressman Dean Phillips sent a tweet. Americans and Afghans desperate to leave as the Taliban took over should call his office.

DEAN PHILLIPS: And, boy, the floodgates opened. And the tweet was well-read, well-distributed.

WALSH: His staff includes two veterans who fought in Afghanistan, and they scrambled to respond. Phillips has a personal connection as a gold star son. His father was killed in Vietnam. His team added more than 6,500 individuals to a database tracking the evacuation effort. Phillips credits the Biden administration's airlift effort, but he says without a playbook, his team had to improvise.

PHILLIPS: There are 27 task forces working on the Afghanistan issue right now, very little communication. This is my staff telling me about their embarrassment of how poorly coordinated this effort was.

WALSH: Other lawmakers, like Indiana Republican Jim Banks, an Afghanistan veteran, insist the congressional efforts won't end even now that the Pentagon says the military mission is over.

JIM BANKS: We're going to continue to fight like hell to get - one, to get every American out of the country but also to hold those accountable for what they've created, the mess that they've created.

WALSH: Lawmakers across the board say they are stunned at bureaucratic roadblocks. Here's Phillips again.

PHILLIPS: There isn't a lot of communication. There isn't a lot of collaboration. And it is a source of both confusion and disappointment. There's no question.

WALSH: Another Democrat, Seth Moulton, an Iraq war veteran from Massachusetts, says both parties prodded the administration to start processing visas months ago. He spoke on NPR's Here & Now.

SETH MOULTON: None of this is inevitable. Nearly all of it was avoidable.

WALSH: Lawmakers want answers about why the administration believe Kabul could be secured for weeks, if not months, but ended up in Taliban control in days. Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, says there needs to be a strategy to make sure Afghanistan can't become a haven for terrorists again.

MIKE ROGERS: We have got to deal with this counterterrorism vulnerability, or we will have another attack on our soil. And that's not an option.

WALSH: GOP lawmakers are holding President Biden personally responsible, even though former President Trump cut the deal with the Taliban and ordered U.S. troops out. But the president's allies concede Biden didn't have a plan for executing the exit. Here's Phillips.

PHILLIPS: There was overconfidence. I think Americans were ill-prepared for what would transpire, and that is at the root of the political consequence of some of those decisions.

WALSH: The politics is where the parties disagree. Republicans say voters will remember the chaos and argue the president ignored warnings about the consequences of leaving now. Texas Congressman Mike McCaul is the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

MIKE MCCAUL: This was a political decision, pure and simple.

WALSH: But Democrats note that Americans from both parties support getting out of Afghanistan. Here's Congressman Phillips again.

PHILLIPS: Anybody who tells you at this very moment what's going to be on the minds of American voters in the next midterm election is misleading you because nobody knows.

WALSH: Congress largely gave up its war powers to the executive branch when the war started in Afghanistan. With a mismanaged exit this week from the country's longest war, many on both sides of the aisle say it's time to reassert them.

Deirdre Walsh, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF BELLA BOO SONG, "ALOM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.