Aug 24, 2021
Kevin McCarthy & House GOP Afghanistan Press Conference Transcript August 24
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other GOP representatives held a press conference on August 24, 2021 where they addressed the situation in Afghanistan. Read the transcript of the full briefing here.
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Kevin McCarthy: (00:10)
… they brought their parliament back to work on bringing their citizens home. We should be doing the exact same. I know the effects that it’s having on those who are there, those who are back home and those who have served. For every single individual, from every gold star family, from every veteran, I want to thank you for your service and your sacrifice. You did exactly what was asked upon you. With that, I’d like to call up our ranking member of veterans, Mr. Bost.
Mike Bost: (00:40)
Thank you leader. More than 2000 American heroes have given their life in Afghanistan since 2001. We must never forget their sacrifice and the sacrifice that their families made as well. One of the scariest days of my life was the day that I watched my son leave this United States and move into a war zone. I’ll never stop being grateful that he made it home safely and that so many of his fellow service men made it home as well, including those who did deploy into Afghanistan. But after two decades, they did make the world safer.
Mike Bost: (01:27)
And they are still trying to make the world safer and they’re trying to take care of their… Each one of them are reaching out to our offices to try to identify Afghans, people that worked with them, to try to get them back home. So they’re not stopping sacrificing today. They’re still trying to serve.
Mike Bost: (01:46)
Unfortunately, the Biden administration has let them down. They’re watching the country that they had to fight in and the people that they fought alongside be left in chaos. My plea to you at this today is check with the veterans you know to make sure they’re doing okay. Talk to them. The concern that they’re feeling and the uptick that we’re seeing in the calls to the hotlines for those veterans and what they’re feeling has increased tremendously.
Mike Bost: (02:21)
Make sure that you check on them. And if you’re a veteran, a service member who served in Afghanistan and you’re feeling this, reach out to this veteran crisis hotline, which is available. I want to give you that hotline number right now. It’s a confidential call, it’s 1-800-273-8255. Or you can text 838255. Once again, it’s call 1-800-2738255 or text 838255.
Mike Bost: (02:56)
Now know this, to each of the veterans that are listening there, you’re not alone. You didn’t fight in vain. You did a great service for this nation and we know you continue to serve in your communities. And with that, I yield back. And I want to introduce a Ranking Member McCall.
Michael McCaul: (03:15)
Thank you Ranking Member Bost, and I agree, today’s the day say thank you to our veterans. They’re hurting. They’re in a bad place. They wonder was it worth it? As they see the Taliban takeover, it raises a lot of questions. We just got out of a classified briefing with the secretary of state and defense, chairman of joint chiefs, the DNI, so all the key components. And, as a leader said, we left with more questions than we did with answers.
Michael McCaul: (03:45)
My understanding is the President just announced a firm withdraw date of August 31st. I can tell you, there’s no way we can humanly get all of our American citizens and Afghan partners out of country by that time. I’ve called this consistently an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. It will be a stain on this presidency, and particularly after the decision made today and what we heard today, he will have blood on his hands.
Michael McCaul: (04:14)
People are going to die and they’re going to be left behind. The biggest credo in the military is No Man Left Behind, No One Left Behind, and that’s precisely what we are doing. We are violating the trust and moral obligation that we gave them. And not only that, but how’s this impacting our status in the global community?
Michael McCaul: (04:34)
You know, when our Brits, the prime minister and secretary of defense are calling upon us to extend the deadline… The Germans, because they want to get their people out of there as well. But instead we have a president who is intimidated and is begging to negotiate with the Taliban. To put ourselves in that place where we’re begging the Taliban to give us more time to evacuate, and then we give the Taliban exactly what they want, empowering them.
Michael McCaul: (05:03)
I know when Biden met with Putin, Putin said you cannot put your ISR intelligence capabilities in the region, and now we’re having the president of Russia telling this president what to do. Our global standing has greatly diminished. We’re projecting weakness, not strength.
Michael McCaul: (05:21)
For months we told this administration, as the IC briefed us on a grim situation, that it was deteriorating rapidly, the Taliban is going to take over, Afghanistan is going to fall, “Please get our Americans out. Please get our Afghan partners out.” Instead, they’re stranded there, our military is pulling out and they’re going to be left behind.
Michael McCaul: (05:42)
From a world stage standpoint, I can’t think of a weaker posture that we can put ourselves into. Our allies no longer trust us and our enemies no longer fear us. And that’s Russia, China, and Iran and Pakistan. This will have grave long-term consequences for our national security down the road. And with that, I’d like to introduce another veteran of Afghanistan, Mr. Banks. I’m sorry, Mr. Rogers. I apologize.
Mike Rogers: (06:11)
Listen, Joe Biden has not been listening to anybody. He’s not listening now. One fact that was abundantly clear in the briefing we just had is that it’s not possible to get all the Americans out of Afghanistan by next Tuesday. And then you heard the President go in there within the last hour and say it’s still a hard deadline. That is reckless and it is going to leave blood on people’s hands.
Mike Rogers: (06:33)
Everything about the situation that we’re in now is Joe Biden’s fault. When he told George Stephanopoulos a couple of days ago that none of his advisors advised him against leaving Afghanistan the way he’s doing it, that’s just a lie. The fact is, Joe Biden made the announcement in April of unconditional withdrawal. In May and in June, our committee repeatedly was asking the administration for a plan. “How are you going to responsibly withdrawal?” And they couldn’t give us one.
Mike Rogers: (07:02)
I wrote a letter to the President in July asking for a plan, still haven’t got a response. And now, in August, the Taliban takes over. He’s not listening to his advisors. He’s not listening to Congress and this is the result that we got.
Mike Rogers: (07:16)
When you see ISIS-K and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan about to commit terrorist attacks, know Joe Biden created this place that we’ve got over there, and now to be as dangerous as it is, with his reckless decision-making. Either he’s senile or he’s in denial. But either way, it’s reckless for our country and this disaster that is taking place is his responsibility. And our yield now to Jim Banks of Indiana.
Jim Banks: (07:43)
I thank the ranking member and the leader for putting this together today. I served in Afghanistan in 2014 and ’15, just prior to being elected to Congress. My job there was as a foreign military sales officer. So I was on the front lines of acquiring the equipment that the Americans provided and turned over to the Afghan army and the Afghan police.
Jim Banks: (08:06)
I’m going to read to you what is so painful for me and so many other Afghan veterans who served in that capacity, others who served as a part of the Train Advise Assist and Equip effort in helping the Afghans. We now know that due to the negligence of this administration, the Taliban now has access to over $85 billion worth of American military equipment. That includes 75,000 vehicles, over 200 airplanes and helicopters, over 600,000 small arms and light weapons. The Taliban now has more Black Hawk helicopters than 85% of the countries in the world. But they don’t just have weapons. They also have night vision goggles, body armor, medical supplies. And unbelievably, unfathomable to me and-
Jim Banks: (09:03)
Unbelievably unfathomable to me and so many others is that the Taliban now has biometric devices, which have the fingerprints, eye scans and the biographical information of the Afghans who helped us over the last 20 years. And here’s what we just learned again in the briefing that we just walked out of, is this administration still has no plan to get this military equipment or these supplies back. Instead, it’s all fallen into the hands of the Taliban. There’s still no plan to account for what has happened to these weapons. I can tell you with ranking member Rogers behind me, that HASC Republicans will fight next week when we go through the National Defense Authorization markup to fight for a plan. If this administration, the Democrats, aren’t going to do it, we will do it. We will demand a plan to account for all of this military equipment.
Jim Banks: (10:02)
But here’s what I’m concerned about even more than the Taliban acquiring these weapons, it’s that we know that Al Qaeda and ISIS-K still exist and are growing in Afghanistan, and eventually they acquire these weapons. And as I said before, if any American is harmed or killed and not safely evacuated, or if any of this military equipment or weapons are used to harm or kill an American, the blood is directly on Joe Biden’s hands. What’s also painfully clear from the briefing that we just walked out of is that behind closed doors, the Biden team tells us one thing. They admit mistakes. They know this is a dangerous situation going on in Afghanistan. And President Biden tells us something different. He tells us that everything’s okay, that it’s under control. So either Joe Biden is lying to us, or he’s not in touch with the team that just briefed us in the room. And that’s a shame as well. So with that, I yield to Representative Waltz from Florida, a fellow Afghanistan veteran.
Michael McCaul: (11:12)
Mike Waltz from Florida. I’ve served multiple tours in Afghanistan as a Green Beret on the ground. And this is deeply personal to so many of us. I personally have helped my Afghan interpreters get back to the United States. They’re thriving now as American citizens, but their families are being hunted down as we speak. I’ve also had one that fought with us. His name was Little Spartacus. He was such a fighter. He was intercepted at a Taliban checkpoint with the very American documentation that he needed to get out of here. They didn’t just kill him. They took him home to his village and beheaded his brothers and cousins in front of him before then beheading him.
Michael McCaul: (12:04)
I’ve seen school principals run out of town and murdered after they were hunted down. Their crime, teaching girls. And then the girls’ school was burnt down. The Taliban have not changed. And what is clear from the briefings, what has been clear from the months of briefings that our committee has received on the Armed Services Committee, is that a Taliban takeover equals Al-Qaeda 3.0. And one thing that Joe Biden either won’t admit or doesn’t understand is that what happens in Afghanistan doesn’t stay in Afghanistan. It spreads like a cancer. It will follow us home. And many of us have been very clear about that danger across multiple administrations. This isn’t about politics. This is about the fact that America now is less safe.
Michael McCaul: (12:56)
Here’s why we’re in even a worse position than we were in 2001, because now we have no bases in the region. One thing that’s clear from the briefings, and we’ve been asking for months, is not a single country surrounding Afghanistan, not one has agreed to allow U.S. forces to base there, to allow our intelligence, our drones and other things we need to understand what’s going on to base there, much less to allow lethal strikes to keep a lid on Al-Qaeda, and ISIS and others. And the intelligence community has been very clear. They have the will and the intent to hit us again. So as we head into the 20th anniversary, the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we now face the prospect of our soldiers having to go back in. Now they have, the Taliban is much more heavily armed, our local allies have been hunted down. There is no Northern Alliance. There are very small elements left still willing to resist.
Michael McCaul: (13:57)
And I can tell you, we’re going to lead that effort from Congress, because the administration won’t lead to continue the fight and to continue to keep America safe. This is a disaster on historic proportions and there needs to be accountability. And that accountability sadly is going to come from right here. With that, I yield and I hand off to my fellow veteran, brother in arms, Brian Mast. Thank you, brother.
Kevin McCarthy: (14:24)
Absolutely. Brian Mast. Was injured in Afghanistan September 19th, 2010. Had countless friends killed in action to my left and right. Recovered alongside hundreds more. Had the honor of serving alongside hundreds of thousands that put on the uniform. I have two brief things to say. One of them is a message to our veterans and one of them is a request for you, the media, and all Americans really. This is not a walk and chew gum situation, where we go out there and with half of our effort work to get Americans home and with the other half work on things that are peripheral to that or have nothing to do with that. You, as the media, can pressure this place. When something’s going on here, like working on a bill that has to do with altering voting or infrastructure, you need to ask the question, what the hell are you doing? Get our Americans home.
Kevin McCarthy: (15:25)
When somebody starts working on something other than getting our Americans home here, say, what the hell are you doing? Work on the rules of engagement for those Marines and Rangers on the ground to make sure that they have everything that they need in place to get the job done and to get home. When somebody is asking some other question here, working on something else in the rules committee or something else, say, what the hell are you doing? Did every American get home yet? Did you get all of those SIVs taken care of? When somebody is working on something else, say, what the hell are you doing? 435 of you need to be helping the State Department with every asset within your staff to help them process those SIVs. Get every American to pressure the people in Washington, DC here to get every American and every person that helped Americans back here safe, out of the hostage hands of the Taliban.
Kevin McCarthy: (16:16)
That’s an active role that you can play. The administration will listen to you. They’ll probably listen to you more than anybody else. If we know one thing, it’s they’re most concerned with optics, and that’s probably what’s putting more people in danger than anything else. The optics of why they wanted to get out so soon, the optics of why they’re not calling this a combat mission. You can help to create the pressure to get people back home. My message for veterans is this, and I spoke about it with my friend, Jim Baird, earlier, who lost an arm in Vietnam. It wasn’t Jim Baird’s fault that they lost Vietnam. It was the fault of those in Pennsylvania Avenue. It wasn’t the fault of those that trudged over the mountains in Afghanistan, that were in the firefights, that were kicking in doors, that were going through those fields of improvised explosive devices that Afghanistan is lost. It is the fault of those at Pennsylvania Avenue. I yield to Mr. Green.
Mark Green: (17:28)
Mark Green, Tennessee Seven. It’s also very personal to me as well. I served in the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment early during the war. I was there when Pat Tillman was killed. I vividly remember his flag draped coffin being brought out to the airfield through a cordon of our nations tier one … I mean, these are the hardest guys in the United States military, toughest, most elite. This flag draped coffin goes through and there’s not a dry eye.
Mark Green: (18:03)
This flag-draped coffin goes through, and there’s not a dry eye. I can see it like it was yesterday going into the back of that C-17. The door’s closing, the sun was rising at Bagram. It is imprinted in my brain forever. Like so many other faces and names, just like Pat’s. I happen to serve the area that surrounds Fort Campbell. About 85% of the people who live at Fort Campbell are in my district. When I go to the Publix, I have to look into the eyes of children who are Gold Star children. This is deeply personal for me.
Mark Green: (18:45)
I want to tell those veterans as has been echoed here before, your service was completely and incredibly valuable to this country. For 20 years, you protected our nation from a terrorist attack. That has value. And the friends that we lost, their sacrifice has value. If you’re struggling, rebootrecovery.com. We’ve talked to many of you, but if you are having a hard time, rebootrecovery.com. I just want to make a point about this disconnect between the president and the truth. He’s continually saying things that are completely different than what his own people say. For example, no one thought it was a bad idea to withdraw like this, as has already been mentioned, when we know that people in his senior staff have said, “We shouldn’t withdraw.” Things like, “The Afghan people don’t want to leave.” Yet, there were tens of thousands of applications already in process.
Mark Green: (19:47)
And I think the thing that really angers me the most is that the Afghan military did not want to fight. That is absolutely incorrect. I served with those men and women. I took care of them when they were wounded on the battlefield. Afghan special forces in my hands, bleeding. They are warriors, and they have carried the ground fight, if you go do your homework, for the past several years, with over 50,000 casualties. They are brave, and they want to fight, but they felt abandoned by the United States of America when they woke up and went to Bagram Air Field, and we were gone. Crickets. When you withdraw like that, you take the heart of fight out of them. And of course, their fear of a ruthless beheading Taliban, they blended in. This is a tragedy that is on Joe Biden.
Mark Green: (20:47)
But I want to say one more thing before I step down and hand it over to Jake. Your credibility is at stake too. Remember when President Trump made the comment or it was a speech to NATO, and he left out article five, and you guys went crazy. Oh, he doesn’t support NATO. This president has been asked to stay in Afghanistan to support our NATO allies who came to that country on our behalf because we were attacked. And he has said, “No, we’re getting out by the 31st, regardless of what you think.” Now, say something about that in the press for your own credibility. I yield to Mr. Ellzey.
Jake Ellzey: (21:33)
Thank you, Mr. [Green 00:21:34]. My name’s Jake Ellzey, Texas six, the newest member of this caucus. 20-year Navy veteran, flying helicopters and jets off aircraft carriers. 2001, we started the war off the USS Enterprise flying Tomcats, night strikes on Tora Bora before anybody knew what Tora Bora was. I toured again in 2009 and ’10 as Commanding Officer of a fighter squadron, flying into Afghanistan yet again. And then, again, when I retired in 2012, and 2013, and ’14, I deployed as a contractor flying ISR aircraft out of Bagram Air Base. For all of us, this is not politics. Nobody wants to be standing up in front of you talking about this. This is a failure. We want to be talking about other things. But this is personal, and it’s about Americans, not politics. I’d like to point out that 2,443 American souls have given their lives for their country and for the betterment of another one since this conflict began nearly 20 years ago.
Jake Ellzey: (22:44)
Since 9/11, 30,000 of our brothers and sisters in arms have taken their own lives, eternally wounded by that which they witnessed and experienced in Afghanistan. They will never be forgotten. Long after this failure will be talked about, their memory lives on, and it wasn’t in vain. They did their jobs. What we have now is September 10th, 2001 in Afghanistan. They completely own the country again, only now, they’re one of the best armed militaries in the world with our equipment. That should worry everybody going forward, the surrounding countries and our allies. But it’s a simple fact. So, the question we have is, as we talk about how many people were going to get out of this country in the next week, when we know we don’t have 50 of them, 50% of them gone in the last week, how did we get here?
Jake Ellzey: (23:48)
Who made the decision to use Hamid Karzai International in Kabul instead of Bagram? You’ve got a one-runway airport in Kabul and a two-runway airport 30 miles to the north that’s easily protected and always has been protected by American military with at least twice the capacity and heavy lift capability to get our equipment out and our people out. Who made that decision and who was in charge of it? As an analogy, it would be much like the military deciding we’re going to evacuate Washington DC out of Reagan instead of Andrews. Does that put that in perspective? This is a massive failure that we don’t understand. And nobody’s talking about how that happened. But it’s just one of many failures that have occurred.
Jake Ellzey: (24:35)
Now, the August 31 deadline, we’re talking about a military mission here. Nobody can put a date on the accomplishment or the completion of a successful military mission. There’s no arbitrary date. The mission is complete when the mission is complete. And if the Taliban harms a hair on an American’s head, all those aircraft and those aircraft carriers, those AC-130s, we will rain hell fire down on you until all Americans are out. And that’s what this administration needs to be saying. This commission is complete when it’s complete and not a day before. Thank you for your time. Leader McCarthy.
Kevin McCarthy: (25:14)
I want to thank all them who have served up here. You realize that it’s personal, but it’s personal thousands of Americans out there. It’s extremely personal to Gold Star families. There’s no one in the world, outside of Joe Biden, who thinks we can get everybody out by August 31st. If there’s anything this body of Congress should do, to pass a resolution exactly saying that. Do not pick the date, pick the mission that every single American gets out of Afghanistan. And that can determine the date when it’s done. And use whatever means possible to make that happen.
Kevin McCarthy: (25:55)
We are America. We have a force that can get it done. We just need a president that will give the authority to make it happen. Any time wasted in Congress on any other topic is exactly that, a waste. We’ve only been allotted 90 minutes to have this discussion, but we spent an entire night. The leadership of the Democrats spent their entire day, yesterday in a day, trying to twist arms, to get people to vote, to vote for trillions of dollars, not twisting one arm to make sure you get Americans out. I think they spent a little time listening to this country, they’ll know what their work should be done. With that, we’ll open it up for questions. Yes, ma’am.
Speaker 1: (26:41)
[inaudible 00:26:41] thanks so much. You just said there is no way possible to complete this withdrawal within seven days. Why don’t you think it’s possible? And what is your message to the president if he sticks with this time table?
Kevin McCarthy: (26:57)
The reason why there is no way possible, look at the number that we have there. They will not even provide the official number.
Kevin McCarthy: (27:03)
… have there. They will not even provide the official number the amount that we have been able to get out there, and personally, to the number of members here, Mark Green just yesterday, working, getting individuals out. Reports that they’re having to go to another country, officials inside Kabul. I raised that to the President as well. Even from our own reporting, from those who are in charge will tell you they can’t get the job done in that short amount of time. No one understands or believes that they can get it out by the 31st. And to allow the Taliban to dictate to America when we depart and that we have to leave Americans there, no American should be held hostage and no American should be left. And it’s very clear from this conference that we will spend our time on the floor only focused on this. Until every American’s out, we should not be working on anything else. Yes.
Speaker 2: (28:03)
Congressman McCarthy, I want to ask if you believe the previously negotiated May 1st date for withdrawal, whether you believe that would have worked out better than what we’re seeing today. And if so, why? And secondly, if I may, do you intend to whip your caucus to vote against the Infrastructure Bill?
Kevin McCarthy: (28:19)
First of all, I don’t think the Infrastructure Bill should come up. I don’t think any other business should come up. We should be spending our time on this right here and looking at the past. Speaking to Mr. Pompeo, speaking to the former President, I know this would not have taken place. To listen to the administration today say that they had planned for every scenario, would you have planned for this? To watch the President get asked the question, “Was there any mistakes? Would you do anything different?” “No,” why would you continue with this plan of failure? Knowing for myself, but being a Gang of Eight, knowing what the intel was ahead of time, you knew that this was an option, that it would fall this fast. You watch, why not after the first city, why not after the Taliban broke the agreement they had before, why didn’t you come back with force?
Kevin McCarthy: (29:12)
Why would you leave and take the military out and leave the citizens there? Why would you leave in the middle of the night the base and not tell our allies? Our allies went there to protect us because of 9/11, because of the respect they have for America. Our own allies today that have risked their lives and their citizenry are asking us to stay longer. I will tell them we hear them and we believe we should. We should keep our promise. What is happening today won’t go away in a week. It will be decades. The idea where you heard Jim Banks talk about the weaponry that they have, that it is reported that the Taliban now has more black hawk helicopters than Australia. And someone who says, “Oh, they can’t fly them,” they can learn or they can sell them to Iran or China or others. If you think Afghanistan is far away remember what happened 20 years ago? If you think Afghanistan is far away, understand what’s happened to our borders today.
Kevin McCarthy: (30:18)
It is publicly reported, yes, we’ve caught people on the terrorist watch list and they didn’t come from Central America. The report is from Yemen. You just had 5, 000 prisoners released. They know how to come here. They have a mission on their hands. So not only should we make sure every American is taken out of Afghanistan, we should secure our borders and we should do it today. Yes, ma’am.
Speaker 3: (30:47)
You’ve projected confidence that you’re going to take back the majority next election cycle. If Republican do win, will you be examining this? Will it be investigated? What are your steps [crosstalk 00:30:59]?
Kevin McCarthy: (30:59)
One thing I will promise you, we will not play politics with this. The only thing the Republicans are focused on right now is getting every American out and keeping every promise we made. We will hold when we’re in the minority and when we’re in the majority, we will hold people accountable for the mistakes that were made, the plans that were carried through now. Why weren’t they changed? This tarnished the reputation of America for decades to come and people should be held accountable.
Speaker 4: (31:32)
Kevin McCarthy: (31:33)
Speaker 5: (31:34)
If you could talk about the disconnect in terms of what the intelligence was leading up to this decision making process. The President and the State Department have said that their intelligence didn’t reflect that there would have been such a precipitous takeover by the Taliban, but yesterday even Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee said that going six months back there were warnings that there was a problem. Is that what you got from this briefing? You had both DNI and the State Department and White House officials in this meeting today. Was there a disconnect in the room today when they were talking about this?
Kevin McCarthy: (32:04)
I would leave you simply to President Biden’s press conference in July what he told the American public. “No, they’d be able to fight. There’s no chance of it collapsing.” I happened to be a member of the Gang of Eight. I’ve had intel briefings. I never believed what he was saying there was the briefings that I was requiring. You have the Ranking Member of Armed Services, Mr. Rogers. Been briefed in a different manner that he’s publicly said. Either Joe Biden made a different decision based upon the briefing that he was given, and this is another thing of why we need accountability. What information has been provided to this President? When the President just a few days ago told the American public there was no Al-Qaeda, just less than an hour later he was contradicted by his own administration to our conference.
Kevin McCarthy: (32:58)
When he told the American public that he has no report of Americans having problems getting to the airport in Kabul, we had our own reports that, that was different. In less than an hour, we were told, “No, Americans shouldn’t go. They were being beaten.” So when the President says that the 31st is the deadline, I wonder if he’s making that same decision process of why he wanted out to try to make a date of a 20th anniversary. We want to be very clear with him. Don’t pick the date, solve the problem. Make sure every American is out. Then that will be the date you depart. Thank you.