McCaul Presses Former Admin Officials on Afghanistan WithdrawalPress Release
Washington, D.C.- House Foreign Affairs Lead Republican Michael McCaul questioned Former White House National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and Former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker on the Biden Administration’s failed leadership in Afghanistan at a full committee hearing.
When asked about over the horizon by Rep. McCaul, General McMaster replied, “It’s a pipe dream…It is almost impossible to gain visibility of a terrorist network without partners on the ground who are helping you with human intelligence to be able to map those networks.”
-Questions and Answers as Delivered-
Rep. McCaul: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. You know, from my conversations with National Security Advisor O’Brien and Secretary Pompeo… the February agreement was always conditions-based, as has been mentioned. It’s hard for me to fathom President Trump agreeing to an unconditional surrender to the Taliban – I just don’t think that’s in his DNA. But having said that, and I know there’s a lot of blame to go around, but Ambassador Crocker, I want to thank you for your service in so many hot spots in the region. You know the State Department is responsible for ordering the evacuation. They did not take our advice in our New York Times op-ed. And they left many American citizens behind, still, some left today. And pretty much all of our Afghan partners will certainly face execution. Based on your long-term experience, how would you rate this evacuation?
Former Ambassador Crocker: It would be hard to recall, I can’t recall, one that was more chaotic than the one we experienced in Afghanistan. Clearly, no one anticipated the rapidity of the Taliban takeover, certainly not – I assume not – our folks on the ground. Obviously, this will be the subject of further hearings – who knew what when. Having been through an evacuation or two, the fact that we did not wind up w/ a Tehran like the situation with our embassy seized with our diplomats in it – that took some foresight and action on the part of somebody to ensure it didn’t get any worse than it already was. So yes – as you know sir, I’m on the board of No One Left Behind, a nonprofit that has sought for some time to bring those who have served us and risked their lives doing so to safety in the United States through the special immigrant visa program. Well, we left literally thousands of those behind, including their family members. So in addition to American citizens, who are obviously our first priority, we left a lot of other folks behind. We left behind Afghan women and girls who heeded our call to step forward, get an education, run for parliament, join the military and start a business – you take those steps, we’ve got your back.
Rep. McCaul: And of course now the Taliban flag is emblazoned on the embassy where you served and where we all visited so many times. But there’s talk of a “new and improved” Taliban with whom we can normalize relationships, with whom we can legitimize their government. When I look at the makeup of the leadership, it’s the same old cast of characters with strong ties to terrorism and Al-Qaida. What would be your advice to this administration in terms of normalization of our relationship with the Taliban?
Former Ambassador Crocker: Well first, as a point of comparison, the Taliban in the mid-‘90s is not analogous to what we are looking at now. I think a closer parallel would be the Iranian revolution of 1979, in which we were told by Iran’s civilian leadership in the fall of ’79, now is the time to come back in as the United States. They misread it because they had no idea what was going on in the inner circles of Ayatollah Khameini. I think that’s what we’re looking at now. I think we are probably going to see s/t of a revolution within the Taliban – who leads. So we cannot predict what the Taliban is going to do next, in large part because they can’t predict what they’ll do next.
Rep. McCaul: And I agree. My final question, thank you ambassador so much – Gen. McMaster, over the horizon capability, lots have been talked about that. That’s our ISR capability – the ambassador and I have been talking about for a while. I don’t see how you can effectively do that 8 hours away – Qatar or UAE. We couldn’t even do a proper drone strike when we were on the ground in Afghanistan. And now they’re talking about partnering with Russia to use their bases in Central Asia as our counter-terrorism mission. What are your thoughts on this ISR capability?
General McMaster: Thank you, Representative McCaul. It’s a pipe dream. These are raids that can be conducted against obvious targets, but of course, now you have the Taliban in control – in control of large urban areas in which they’re intermingled with civilian populations which makes the likelihood of a significant amount of collateral damage a big risk, as we saw with the mistaken strike after the mass murder attack against our servicemen and against Afghans at the airport. It is almost impossible to gain visibility of a terrorist network without partners on the ground who are helping you with human intelligence to be able to map those networks. So I think this can be a band-aid – I think we can go after some of the most egregious jihadist terrorist leaders with this capability but the idea that you can conduct effective CT against orgs like AQ or the Haqqani network is a pipe dream. The other thing to remember now, is I think in our capitulation agreement to the Taliban is that we are recognizing their airspace as well and I think are reluctant to take actions I think we should be taking now against those who are terrorizing afghan civilians or maybe enforcing safe zones for refugees, and those who are still resisting the Taliban. But I think that those who talk about an OTH capability have only a limited knowledge of what it takes to conduct effective ops.