The House took a step Thursday toward creating a commission to study the two-decade U.S. war in Afghanistan as lawmakers sparred over how the withdrawal played out.
The House Armed Services Committee voted in favor of adding the measure, sponsored by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., to the annual fiscal 2022 defense authorization bill. The panel approved the must-pass annual legislation in the early morning hours, moving it to the full House where it must be voted on and reconciled with a Senate version.
Republican members hammered the Biden administration for the August withdrawal and evacuation of Americans and Afghans from Kabul that included the suicide bombing deaths of 13 U.S. troops and desperate civilians clinging to the outside of departing planes.
"My concerns have now grown into complete dismay toward the abject failure of this administration to ensure a controlled withdrawal and continued security mission within the region," Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., said at the hearing. "We've been asking for months for greater detail on the so-called 'over the horizon' [counterterrorism] capability the administration has touted. It is now clear this strategy was completely inept from the beginning."
But Democrats, who hold the majority on the committee, successfully pushed to widen the review. Armed Services Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said that discussion of Afghanistan needs to happen, but must encompass a broader look at the conduct of the entire war.
"The idea that the only thing that went wrong in Afghanistan is what President Biden has done in the last six or seven months is not correct," Smith said.
The 12-member bipartisan commission, made up of lawmakers from the House and Senate armed services committees, would review nearly the entire span of the war. It would focus in particular on the Obama administration's 2009 to 2011 surge, the Trump administration's negotiation with the Taliban of a withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal and evacuation concluded by the Biden administration on Aug. 30.
The House legislation also directs the commission to look at the period from 1996 to 2001, when the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan, including efforts to support the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and other resistance groups and opportunities to take out terrorist leaders such as Osama bin Laden.
It would include six members from each party and be required to submit its report by the end of August 2022.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday told reporters that the military would conduct reviews of the evacuation to find ways it could have done things better.
"No operation is ever perfect," he said.
The committee also adopted an amendment from Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., that would require the Pentagon to report on what U.S. equipment, property and classified material was destroyed, surrendered or abandoned during the withdrawal. That includes accounting for weapons, ordnance, aircraft, spare parts and maintenance items that belonged to the former Afghan army or air force, some of which are now in the hands of the Taliban.
It adopted another amendment from Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., the committee's ranking Republican, that would require the Pentagon to produce a plan on supporting the evacuation of roughly 300 U.S. citizens remaining in Afghanistan, who were not able to be evacuated in time. The amendment also calls for the Pentagon to say how it will maintain air superiority over Afghanistan; conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions; and carry out counterterrorism operations.