The Investigation Hustle
The narrow scope of Senator Josh Hawley’s bill for a Senate Select Committee on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a window into how Republicans plan to politicize the war, not investigate it
Josh Hawley won’t run for president in 2024. That doesn’t make the bill he introduced in September for a Senate Select Committee to investigate the US withdrawal from Afghanistan any less political.
A close reading of the legislation Hawley’s proposed reveals that the inquiry he’s angling for is rooted more in gathering dry powder for the Republican nominee’s general election matchup with President Biden than it is in actually seeking accountability for the war in Afghanistan.
Hawley’s Select Committee is a political calculation masquerading as an investigation, a pre-campaign tactic by a party which is anything but anti-war. A Republican investigation would yield a string of pointless hearings, and some talking points for some primary stump speeches, but nothing more.
This is legislation which was written well before the midterms, an election Republicans expected to dominate. With the Democrats retaining control of the Senate, Hawley’s bill is unlikely to get beyond the introductory stage. Nevertheless, similar political exercises are currently being planned in the now Republican-controlled House.
The language in Hawley’s bill is worth examining because of how well it captures the disingenuous, self-serving, and performative nature of the absolute frauds on Capitol Hill.
Hawley’s transparent political maneuver is a prime example of the highly restrictive parameters of acceptable debate Matt Taibbi outlined in his 2019 book, Hate Inc.
That it was crucial to maintain a “light footprint” in Afghanistan in order to “protect the homeland” was the standard position shared by most Republican [and many hawkish Democratic] members of Congress during last year’s national debate on the matter. That it was time for the US to end the war because we’d met our stated objectives was as far left as polite society would allow someone to venture. However, a thorough and vigorous critique of our 20-year occupation wasn’t permitted, and it’s pretty clear that no Republican committee would allow it either.
There’s currently no indication that the estimated 5,000 bombs per year President Obama dropped during the surge at the beginning of his first term in office, or the more than 7,400 dropped by President Trump in 2019, will be reviewed. There don’t appear to be any plans to discuss the botched raids carried out by coalition troops that murdered innocent civilians in the middle of the night. That the Washington Post revealed via the Afghanistan Papers that multiple administrations were systematically lying about our progress and concealing the fact that the war couldn’t be won, aren’t likely to be examined.
The appropriate conversation, the one that sits out of bounds of mainstream discourse, is an honest assessment of what the US military actually did in Afghanistan and, by extension, of the American war machine as a whole.
This is not a conversation that the Republican Party is willing to have and is limiting its critique to the war’s final hours, not the 20 years of illegal bombing and occupation that preceded them. If the numerous committee hearings on Afghanistan covered by this page over the past few years are any indication of what’s to come, the “investigations” the Republicans have planned will be performance art, and nothing more. Hawley’s bill is a good indication of that.
The Select Committee on the United States Withdrawal from Afghanistan, which Senate Resolution 763 calls for, would be appointed by the Senate majority and minority leaders, as well as by the chairmen and ranking members of the Committee on Armed Services, Committee on Foreign Relations, Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, and Select Committee on Intelligence.
This is intended to serve as a veneer of bipartisanship but foreign policy isn’t something the two parties largely disagree on. Years of congressional hearings by the committees listed above, along with the voting records of its members, provide ample evidence of that. As does Section 4, which itemizes all of the things that should be included in the committee’s final report. As expected, all of the desired elements fall within the aforementioned parameters of acceptable public debate.
Some of the information Hawley’s bill calls for includes:
Intelligence that had been made available to the Biden administration regarding an anticipated timeline for a potential Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in early to mid-2021.
“The failure to secure Hamid Karzai International Airport, relocate the United States Embassy in Kabul, and initiate a noncombatant evacuation operation prior to Kabul’s imminent collapse, despite warnings by military commanders on the ground that such a collapse was increasingly likely and could occur rapidly…”
Any potential “orders, instructions, or other guidance” provided to DoD officials that may have prevented the planning of such an evacuation operation.
An inventory of the type and amount of equipment provided by the US to the Afghan military that was recovered by the Taliban following our departure.
The total number of US nationals left in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of US forces, as well as whether or not US government officials may have misled Congress about this number.
Some of these points – particularly the weapons we left behind – are indeed centered on valid concerns. But it’s important to note that the questions such a committee will never ask are far more consequential.
The bill takes aim at the Biden administration, but makes no reference to any of the atrocities the American military spent two decades committing in Afghanistan. Listed below are just some of the many, many instances of US forces murdering innocent civilians on Afghan soil, as previously detailed by this page:
November 28, 2018 – At least 23 civilians, along with 16 Taliban militants, are killed by a US airstrike in Helmand Province.
January 6, 2019 – US airstrikes targeting a Taliban commander in Faryab Province kill 10 Taliban militants as well as five civilians. An additional 11 Taliban fighters, including a Taliban commander, are also killed in a separate US strike in a neighboring village.
January 25, 2019 – Afghan officials blame two US airstrikes for the killing of 29 people in Helmand Province, with the US denying that the second strike took place and stating that the first strike was under investigation.
February 9, 2019 – US airstrikes kill at least 10 civilians in Helmand Province.
March 10, 2019 – At least 13 civilians in Nangarhar Province are killed by US airstrikes, as coalition forces pursue Taliban insurgents in the area. According to Shah Mahmood Miakhel, the provincial governor, a Taliban commander, is also killed.
March 13, 2019 – US airstrikes accidentally kill six Afghan soldiers in Uruzgan Province.
March 23, 2019 – A US airstrike kills 14 civilians as well as four Afghan soldiers in Kunduz Province.
April 2, 2019 – A US airstrike on a hotel in Oruzgan Province kills 13 civilians. The governor of the province however, along with the police chief of Kandahar, have said that all of the casualties were Taliban militants.
May 5, 2019 – US airstrikes targeting suspected methamphetamine labs kill at least 30 civilians – including 14 children – in Nimroz Province and Farah Province. Similar strikes had been conducted on suspected opium-growing operations throughout Afghanistan.
May 24, 2019 – A military operation jointly carried out by US and Afghan forces – one that was not reportedly coordinated with local officials – kills 10 civilians in Paktika Province.
July 14, 2019 – A joint operation conducted by US and Afghan forces kills six civilians as well as eight Taliban militants in Uruzgan Province.
July 15, 2019 – A US drone kills 22 suspected Taliban militants, as well as two children playing close by, in Logar Province.
July 19, 2019 – An airstrike kills three civilians in a house in Badghis Province. After the incident, it’s reported that there were no Taliban anywhere in the area.
July 20, 2019 – Five civilians – all belonging to the same family – are killed by an Afghan airstrike in Badghis Province.
July 21, 2019 – At least 10 civilians are killed by separate Afghan security forces airstrikes in Badghis Province.
July 22, 2019 – A US airstrike kills nine civilians in Logar Province.
September 1, 2019 – US airstrikes, while responding to Afghan calls for reinforcements, kill 12 civilians in Faryab Province.
September 5, 2019 – An Afghan Special Forces unit operation kills four civilians – four brothers from a single family – in Nangarhar Province. The Afghan government says that it will launch an investigation into the incident.
September 28, 2019 – The Afghan Air Force bombs a village in Ghazni Province, killing four civilians. The incident triggers violent, widespread protests in the provincial capital shortly after.
October 9, 2019 – A Special Forces National Directorate of Security operation kills three civilians in Laghman Province.
October 12, 2019 – An airstrike – it remains unclear if the strike was carried out by Afghan or US forces – kills eight civilians in Badakhshan Province.
November 3, 2019 – A drone strike kills six civilians grazing cattle and collecting wood in Paktia Province.
November 7, 2019 – An airstrike targets the home of a Taliban commander, killing him and his four bodyguards. Three women and three children are also killed in the Badghis Province attack.
November 12, 2019 – Afghan airstrikes kill three Taliban commanders in Paktia Province. Later, the family of one of the commanders – eight individuals returning home from his funeral – is killed by another airstrike.
November 18, 2019 – US and Afghan forces conduct airstrikes in Faryab Province, killing two insurgent fighters as well as three civilians.
November 23, 2019 – Ten civilians are killed by an airstrike while sitting near a mosque in Farah Province. It was unclear if it was US or Afghan air power that was responsible for the strike.
November 30, 2019 – A US drone strikes a car carrying a woman who had just given birth, killing her as well as four others, in Khost Province.
December 10, 2019 – Mortars fired by US forces kill four children in Logar Province.
January 21, 2020 – It’s reported that a US drone strike from earlier in the month killed at least 15 civilians after US air support was called in by Afghan government forces. The January 8 strike is said to have killed Mullah Raaz Mohammad Nangyalai, a regional commander of the Rasoul Group, an insurgent faction that has splintered from the Taliban.
Night raids targeting Taliban militants orchestrated by US and Afghan forces often proved to be equally as disastrous, and on many occasions killed innocent civilians instead of, or along with, the intended target:
March 10, 2019 – Three civilians are shot and killed during a night raid in Wardak Province. A Taliban commander is also killed as a result.
March 15, 2019 – US forces kill a father, as well as his three sons, during a night raid in Paktia Province. The Afghan government has promised to investigate the matter.
May 19, 2019 – A raid orchestrated by US and Afghan forces kills at least three civilians in Helmand Province.
August 11, 2019 – National Directorate of Security forces orchestrate a night raid in Paktia Province that kills 11 civilians.
As if our ground presence and air campaign weren’t enough, the CIA also spent years waging a shadow war in Afghanistan via the Khost Protection Force, a paramilitary unit whose operations have been about as effective as our military’s. It’s highly unlikely that a complete account of the atrocities this unit has been responsible for will ever be compiled but listed below are several that have been documented by this publication:
December 2, 2018 – At least 12 civilians are killed in Paktia Province by the Khost Protection Force, a CIA-backed paramilitary unit. The unit follows slightly different rules of engagement and operates with near immunity in Afghanistan.
March 23, 2019 – Five civilians, including four members of the same family, are killed by an Afghan strike in Nangarhar Province. The Afghan group responsible for the operation is being trained and overseen by the CIA.
May 5, 2019 – A CIA-backed Afghan drone strike kills three civilians in Logar Province.
May 9, 2019 – A CIA-backed Afghan drone strike kills four civilians in Nangarhar Province.
May 25, 2019 – At least six civilians are accidentally killed by a CIA-backed Afghan strike in Nangarhar Province.
There have also been plenty of other instances of the US erroneously targeting the Afghan forces it’s spent years training:
August 7, 2018 – NATO is investigating reports that a US strike killed at least nine Afghan policemen in Logar Province.
November 7, 2018 – US airstrikes targeting ISIS kill two Afghan security forces personnel as well as three pro-government militia members. A spokesman for the US military says that an investigation is currently underway.
February 25, 2019 – Nine pro-government militia members are accidentally killed in Ghazni Province. The airstrike was said to have come from either US airstrikes or Afghan forces; the matter is currently being investigated.
May 17, 2019 – At least 17 Afghan police officers are accidentally killed by a US airstrike in Helmand Province, after requesting assistance from US forces.
September 29, 2019 – A US airstrike mistakenly kills seven pro-government militia members in Takhar Province.
November 11, 2019 – US drone strikes kill four Afghan soldiers in Logar Province.
Every once in a while, some of the particularly egregious ones broke through to the mainstream:
October 3, 2015 – Twelve Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) staff members, along with 10 patients, are killed at Kunduz Trauma Centre by US airstrikes. The bombs come in the middle of the night, in 15-minute intervals. In the days that follow, the organization releases a statement regarding the incident, noting that “not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the US airstrike on Saturday morning.” The statement – which refers to the incident as a “war crime” – also specifies that the bombing took place despite the fact that MSF had provided the hospital’s GPS coordinates to Coalition and Afghan forces.
September 19, 2019 – At least 30 people are killed by a US drone strike in Nangarhar Province. The individuals who were targeted – thought to be ISIS militants – turned out to be civilians harvesting pine nuts.
September 23, 2019 – An Afghan special forces night raid targeting a Taliban commander, kills at least 40 civilians – including 12 children – attending a wedding nearby in Helmand Province. According to Afghan officials, the bride’s home was apparently adjacent to a house being used by the Taliban to train suicide bombers. Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan, said that the US and Afghan army were conducting “precision strikes against barricaded terrorists firing on Afghan and US forces,” and that most of the civilian casualties were the result of gunfire from militants or detonations of their explosives caches or suicide vests. According to the provincial governor’s office, 22 Taliban fighters, including four senior commanders as well as the Taliban shadow governor of Musa Qala, are also killed. A US Department of Defense official later acknowledges that the airstrikes were the cause of some of the civilian deaths, with Afghanistan’s defense ministry reportedly investigating the civilian casualties.
The limited mandate Hawley seeks is purely political, and reflects the deeply unserious motives of the right wing’s “concerns” about the war in Afghanistan. Section 4(E) of Hawley’s bill is perhaps the most glaring piece of evidence to support this stance.
According to this part of the bill, the committee is interested in learning about “any dissenting views shared in writing or other formats, including verbally, by United States diplomats, military commanders, or other government officials,” as it pertains to things like an anticipated timeline for a Taliban takeover of the country and the Afghan military’s capability to prevent this from happening.
This is also nothing but more political theater because it’s difficult to imagine placing any value in “dissenting views” from the least credible group of individuals in government.
Generals are wired to reflexively opt for the militaristic option, are consistently wrong about every foreign entanglement the US becomes involved in, and spend their retirement sitting on the boards of some of the largest defense contractors on earth. Nevertheless, the American public still consumes just enough propaganda to continue to revere them and hang onto their every word.
Because Republicans understand the value of this American obsession, it makes sense that trying to catch the president in the blasphemy of failing to listen to the generals would be included.
Many of them supported ending the war in Afghanistan.
However, this stance was rooted more in their desire to shift the US military’s focus to China than it was in winding down our endless wars and interventions. Many in the party have repeatedly advocated for “ending the forever wars,” but their collective rhetoric on China points to a preference to swap a conflict with the Taliban for a potential confrontation with a nuclear superpower.
As a matter of fact, even in his advocacy for bringing the war in Afghanistan to an end, Senator Hawley emphasized his support for its most brutal elements, and championed their continuation.
“There was a time for war in Afghanistan, and there were very compelling reasons. In the aftermath of 9/11, it was imperative that we destroyed al Qaeda and punished the Taliban. But those objectives have long since given way to a broader nation-building mission in the region. This is a mistake,” Hawley wrote in November 2020. “We have built a worldwide counterterrorism enterprise that allows us to disrupt, degrade, and destroy terrorist organizations far more effectively than ever before. So long as we stay focused on our counterterrorism objectives, maintain our ability to identify and strike targets as needed, and coordinate our withdrawal appropriately, we can prevent groups in Afghanistan from launching attacks on the United States without keeping thousands of American troops on the ground.”
The following summer, President Biden did in fact use this “ability to identify and strike targets as needed,” incinerating aid worker Zemerai Ahmadi’s car – that US officials said they believed he had been filling with explosives, but were actually water jugs – murdering him and nine of his family members.
Hawley’s bill makes no mention of this incident or any of the countless others that preceded it because the Republicans have no intention of investigating the war in Afghanistan. All they appear to be interested in doing is cobbling together a campaign. Because so many people refuse to acknowledge how the war actually ended, it’s a tactic they think they can pull off.
Many on the right like to give President Trump credit for “trying” to end the war but this is a shockingly low bar for the commander-in-chief. As the leader of the United States military, he had the ability to remove all US forces at any time, and he simply chose not to.
In February 2020, the US and the Taliban signed what came to be known as the Doha agreement, laying out a timetable for the US to remove all of its troops from Afghanistan over the next year. The same president who’d once warned us of the ills of setting arbitrary timetables had decided on 14 months. The same administration who never wanted to telegraph to the Taliban how long it would take to wait us out, had asked them to wait until the following spring.
The following May – the deadline for the US to follow through on its end of the deal – was little more than a post-election mirage because nobody knows what Trump would’ve chosen to do had he been reelected. Every day for four years he awoke with the unilateral power to end the war and every one of those days ended without that happening. To take the president – especially a habitual liar like Trump – at his word, is both nonsensical and illogical, but that’s exactly what his supporters did.
Joe Biden’s loyalists aren’t any better.
When the president announced that he was “ending” the war a few months after taking office, most Democrats chose not to listen to the parts of his speech they didn’t want to hear.
In June 2021, the Biden administration announced that nearly 1,000 US troops would remain in Afghanistan following the “withdrawal.” During that time period, it was also revealed that the US was planning to begin negotiations with neighboring countries such as Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan in the hopes of being able to set up bases from which to continue surveillance, reconnaissance, and drone strikes after the US departure.
After the Taliban marched through the country in less than two weeks, the president swiftly realized just how many troops maintaining a US presence in Afghanistan would require – following the end of the war Chairman on the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley testified before Congress that holding Kabul alone would require at least 25,000 troops – and abandoned the idea of leaving behind a residual force. The talks to establish US bases right at Afghanistan’s doorstep also never materialized.
Plainly put, Biden had essentially planned to continue the US occupation, watched his military get thrown out of the country, and received credit for “choosing” to end the war anyway.
This is a timeline most Democrats and Republicans refuse to acknowledge, opting instead for sloppy revisionism for an event that occurred little more than a year ago. In many ways, how the war ended serves as a political Rorschach test for both tribes.
In last August’s headlines, Republicans saw a failed opportunity to execute a perfect exit, while Democrats saw a brave decision by a bold and courageous president. Neither side was correct but neither side seemed to give it much thought.
Hawley’s Senate Select Committee – or any similar committee in the House – will be constructed to cater to this mindless divide.
The senator’s office did not return a request for comment.