Sat. Dec 4th, 2021

Administration officials maintained Wednesday that there was broad support for ending the conflict and that they are working hard to get Americans and vulnerable Afghans out of the country. They pointed to improved conditions at Hamid Karzai International Airport, describing it as an altogether different scene, with military control and flights going in and out of Kabul.

“The president made the right decision to end a decadeslong war and is deeply focused on getting every American out of Afghanistan, along with our allies and vulnerable Afghans,” White House spokesman Andrew Bates said in a statement.

But the administration has faced uncomfortable questions about what lengths the military was willing to go to bring stranded Americans from Taliban-controlled areas to the safety of the airport. On Wednesday, officials briefed congressional staffers about the evacuation efforts, according to a person who attended the session. Aides were told that the military is drawing up plans to transport Americans to Kabul from other parts of the country, given concerns about their safety in making the trek to the capital, the person added. Taliban checkpoints throughout Afghanistan have made it difficult for Americans to escape to Kabul, where the only airport under U.S. control is located.

The administration, through the Defense and State Departments, also has tried to get ahead of concerns by answering questions from Democratic lawmakers regarding efforts to speed Special Immigrant Visas to Afghans.

But one House Democratic source said there is a blame game unfolding between officials at the Defense and State departments over the processing of the visas and the intelligence failures. House members are expected to receive a classified briefing on Afghanistan next week.

Democrats on the Hill are focusing their attention on the immediate evacuation needs. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) has submitted more than 300 applications for visas and is pressing the State Department to process people as “liberally and leniently” as possible. The State Department left Connolly with the impression that they planned to be lenient and not insist on perfect documentation, but they gave no hard confirmation. Connolly, however, still defended Biden, arguing that the events of the past week cannot be viewed in a vacuum.

“It was Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo that set the events of this last weekend in motion, not Joe Biden,” said Connolly, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “They’re the ones that legitimized and elevated the Taliban in agreeing to negotiate directly with them face to face in Doha, Qatar.”

Connolly’s one criticism of Biden, “if I were to criticize [Biden] at all,” he said, is that the administration “overestimated the amount of time they thought they had with the Afghan military we had trained” and “bought into the conventional wisdom being propounded by so-called experts.” But he called it “false” and “undeserved” for the press and some of his colleagues to say the Afghanistan withdrawal would be an “indelible stain” on Biden.

“I am downright angered at some of the criticism being leveled at him,” he said.

Still, the White House is fighting to fend off criticism from all sides — from diplomats to Obama-era administration figures to members of Congress. The pending Democratic-led investigations on the chaotic withdrawal and intelligence failures will keep Afghanistan front and center in the coming months as the administration tries to pass Biden’s economic agenda. A number of Democratic lawmakers, including some who served in the military, have condemned the White House’s handling of the situation.

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