Friday, June 24

Lawmakers drop classified briefing on Afghanistan

(CNN) — Several lawmakers angrily abandoned a classified briefing with members of the Biden administration on Wednesday morning. Afghanistan according to three sources familiar with the briefing.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers were frustrated after officials from the State Department, the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of Homeland Security did not answer their basic questions during the briefing for Commissioners. House Foreign Affairs Officer on Afghanistan, the sources told CNN.

State Department officials – both privately and publicly – continue to say that there are still about 100 Americans in Afghanistan who want to get out.

Some lawmakers have told CNN they don’t understand that accounting, given that the Department has said they have evacuated more than 75 Americans from Afghanistan through evacuation efforts in recent weeks. State Department officials have said that the dynamic situation on the ground is the reason they cannot give a more precise figure.

A State Department spokesperson told CNN on Wednesday that “as a general matter, we do not comment on communications with Congress, especially those made in a classified environment.”

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Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told CNN’s Jake Tapper – on “The Lead” – Wednesday that “everyone left” the meeting, and questioned whether administration officials knew the number of Americans still in the country.

“The fact is, I think there are still hundreds of Americans left behind enemy lines. Most of the interpreters that you and I spoke about did not come out,” he said, referring to the Afghan interpreters who had worked for the US Armed Forces, He added that he has received “horrible stories” from those in the country.

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“I don’t think they know all the answers, honestly,” he said of the administration.

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A Democratic adviser told CNN that some of the lawmakers dropped out of Wednesday’s classified briefing because there were Republican members who were not wearing masks, as dictated by covid-19 prevention protocols. The adviser added that many members are satisfied with the commitment of the State Department.

Evacuation flights continue to leave Afghanistan at a slow pace, including one over the weekend with more than 21 US citizens on board.

Officials say a large amount of work is needed, especially due to the necessary coordination between the US, Qatar and the Taliban to check the background of people who do not have all the necessary documents.

The goal of the Biden administration is for flights out of the country to become routine. But that can only be achieved when commercial flights are in and out of Kabul airport, and it could be weeks before that happens, State Department officials say.

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The planned coordination efforts between the State Department and private individuals or groups – which took shape after the initial tensions between the two parties – are already underway. The State Department holds two weekly calls with the AfghanEvac coalition, and those involved describe the current situation as less chaotic than it was initially.

“I don’t think we can get any better coordination than we are building now,” said Shawn VanDiver, the founder of the Truman National Security Project, San Diego chapter, which is leading the AfghanEvac effort.

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“We feel that we are part of the team and that we have a shared goal,” he added.

CNN’s Natasha Bertrand, Katie Bo Lillis and Shawna Mizelle contributed reporting.

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