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Pfluger Delivers Opening Remarks for Subcommittee Hearing on the Biden Administration’s Catastrophic Afghanistan Withdrawal

April 18, 2023

Pfluger Delivers Opening Remarks for Subcommittee Hearing on the Biden Administration’s Catastrophic Afghanistan Withdrawal

WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence Chairman August Pfluger (R-TX) delivered the following opening remarks during a hearing on the Biden administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan a year and a half ago.

The full hearing is livestreamed here.

This morning we are going to discuss the homeland security cost of the catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, which resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghans in an ISIS-K orchestrated terrorist attack.

It also resulted in thousands of extremist inmates, including many with ISIS and al-Qaeda ties, who were released by the Taliban from Pul-e-Charkhi prison as well as the Parwan Detention facility in Afghansitan.

Last Congress, I introduced a bill to make sure that there is an assessment of terrorist threats posed by those prisoners, 5,000+ that were released by the Taliban from the Pul-e-Charkhi and Parwan Detention facility. This legislation became law with a bipartisan effort after being included in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2022. Unfortunately, to date, I we have yet to receive an assessment from the administration on the threat that those released prisoners posed to the United States and our allies.

This hearing is actually important to me for a couple of reasons. Number one, personally, because I’ve served in the Middle East. I have friends that have served, colleagues who have served.

Members of this subcommittee have served, and many of you as witnesses have served. We understand that the threat in the formation of these ideological and often very violent extremist groups is something that if left unchecked will continue to metastasize and get worse.

Less than two weeks ago, this administration released a report to whitewash and shamelessly shifted blame about the execution of the deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan, and in a very inaccurate form.

The administration’s continuous denial and downplaying of what happened is an insult to our servicemembers sitting here and throughout the United States of America, to their families and to our allies.

It is inaccurate to say and to suggest that the withdrawal occurred without chaos as was suggested by a spokesman for the administration.

One doesn’t have to see the horrific images and footage of the evacuation for more than a couple of minutes to make a keen observation that there was a lot of chaos and desperation involved.

Unfortunately, the disastrous withdrawal signaled American weakness and damaged our credibility on the world stage. There is no doubt that our foreign adversaries like Russia and China and others were watching, and that they were calculating. It’s important to remember that the genesis of our involvement in Afghanistan came as a result of the first and only Article 5 every triggered through our NATO membership. That was the attack on our homeland on September 11, 2001.

And now there are 31 members of NATO with Finland joining as of last week. You look at the results of this withdrawal and it impacts not just our own homeland and not just our own security but also that of our allies in Europe as well as those in the indo-Pacific such as Korea and Japan, who had a lot of skin in the game throughout the 20 years.Further troubling is the fact that this administration has repeated the same mistakes we made 20 year ago. And now with our inability to collect intelligence on the ground, to project power, terror groups within Afghanistan have reestablished the country as a breeding ground and a safe haven for terrorism.

CENTCOM Commander Gen Kurilla recently stated last month that ISIS-K is rapidly developing the ability to conduct “external operations” in Europe and Asia and will be able to attack American and Western interests outside the country in less than six months.

In addition, last month this Subcommittee held a hearing that examined how the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is working to exploit our vulnerabilities, including the CCP surveillance balloon which collected information on our sensitive military installations and critical infrastructure here in our homeland. The CCP’s intellectual property theft, economic coercion, and malign influence at America universities continues to accelerate.

I look forward to the Subcommittee’s work to come together in a bipartisan way to look at the facts and understand what we can do better. And while we are rightly focused on those issues, we must never lose sight of the threats posed by terrorists organizations who are emboldened to carry out and inspire attacks against not only the United States of America but our Western target allies.

I worry that the terrorist threat landscape is not just worse but much worse since the botched withdrawal.

As I have said before, we see a direct link between the foreign terrorist threat abroad and our security here at home.

For instance, let us not forget, an Iraqi man, Shihab Ahmed Shihab, who was charged with aiding and abetting a plot to murder former President George W. Bush. Shihab was an ISIS-sympathizer, inspired to action by Islamic extremist propaganda.

In another matter, which affected my home state of Texas, a British citizen, Malik Faisal Akram, entered the United States using the Visa Waiver Program, and then held members of Congregation Beth Israel, a Jewish synagogue in North Texas, hostage for ten hours. These are just a couple of examples of cases that highlight the very real foreign threat that terrorism poses to our homeland.

Another concern I have continually raised is the significant increase we’ve seen in watchlisted individuals being encountered at the border, in particular the number which are being apprehended between ports of entry – meaning that they are not presenting themselves to be processed at the port of entry, but instead attempting to evade law enforcement.

This comes at a time in which we have an unprecedented crisis at the Southern border as a direct result of Secretary Mayorkas’ failure to enforce the laws of our country.

It has also been revealed by the Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General that DHS encountered obstacles to screen, vet, and inspect all evacuees during the crisis following the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On top of that, the Pentagon’s watchdog published a report which detailed its critical review of the administration’s efforts to screen, vet, and transport those evacuees to the United States.

This Subcommittee and the greater Committee on Homeland Security intend to thoroughly examine these issues to ensure that those charged with protecting our security are acting responsibly and using their resources to properly engage the threats posed to the homeland.

We must work together to protect our homeland. This Committee, the Committee on Homeland Security, was formed in the wake of September 11th, 2001.

We have to remain vigilant, we have to continue to view strength as peace through strength and security as a peace through strength mentality.

I was recently in Poland and met with the Polish Prime Minister, and he said this: “I desire peace, that is why I prepare for war.”

Nobody wants war, but we desire peace. We have to secure our homeland, and I think that the Prime Minister is absolutely correct.

Again, thank you to all our witnesses, thank you for your time and your expertise. I look forward to a good discussion to look at a fact-based analysis of what happened and how we can protect the defense and the security of the United States.