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Biden waived congressional mandate for report on risks of U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan

Published: August 31, 2021
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President Biden in June waived a congressional mandate that would have required the Pentagon to provide members of Congress with a detailed report about the risks of leaving Afghanistan.

The Biden administration under the federal statute was barred from reducing troops in Afghanistan to less than 2,000 without first briefing Congress about the expected impact on U.S. counterterrorism operations and the risk to American personnel. 

However, Biden waived the mandate, arguing that providing this information to Congress could undermine "the national security interests of the United States," according to the Washington Free Beacon.

The administration reportedly assured Congress for months that U.S.-trained Afghan forces could forestall a Taliban takeover when U.S. troops left. However, the Taliban overran the Afghan National Army and took control of Kabul on Aug. 15, as the last  troops were leaving, resulting in the chaotic and deadly evacuation of U.S. personnel and allies.

National security experts and Republican lawmakers told the Washington Free Beacon that the waiver blocked Congress and the public from reviewing the administration's internal national security assessments prior to the withdrawal.

"If we had answers to these questions we might not be in the horrible debacle we're in now," said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "I think the fact that they used the national security waiver to refuse to answer these questions in the light of day tells me their answers could not have stood up to scrutiny."

New York Rep. Claudia Tenney, a Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration should be held accountable for withholding this information from Congress.

"It is increasingly clear that President Biden never had a plan in place to safely withdraw from Afghanistan, so it is no surprise he never shared it with Congress like the law requires," Tenney said. "As we work to complete the critical mission of bringing every American and Afghan ally home, we must also be pressing for answers and accountability."

The law, which was instituted as part of the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act, prohibited the Defense Department from using its budget to reduce troop levels without first providing Congress with a report about the impact a withdrawal would have on the "ongoing U.S. counterterrorism mission against the Islamic State, al Qaeda, and associated forces; the risk to U.S. personnel in Afghanistan; and the risk for the expansion of existing or the formation of new international terrorist safe havens inside Afghanistan," the Beacon also reports.

The Pentagon was also required to provide details on "the threat posed by the Taliban and other terrorist organizations in Afghanistan" and "the capacity of the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces to effectively prevent or defend against attacks by the Taliban."

Biden in a June 8 letter to Congress said he would waive the requirement because he "determined that a waiver of the limitation under subsection 1215(a) is important to the national security interests of the United States" in a June 8 letter to Congress.

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