The Biden administration is illegally withholding information about its bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan, including information that could show senior U.S. officials knew prior to the withdrawal that the Taliban would quickly rise to power and trap scores of Americans, according to a nonpartisan advocacy group focused on U.S. national security issues.
The Center to Advance Security in America (CASA) is petitioning a district court in Washington, D.C., to force the State Department to release communications records related to the 2021 Afghanistan evacuation. This would include information "related [to the] vetting of Afghan refugees, and the number of U.S. citizens and lawful residents that were or were not evacuated from Afghanistan," according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
The Biden administration has yet to provide the American public with a full accounting of those who were left behind in Afghanistan once the Taliban took over and American troops left the country, including the exact number of U.S. citizens and Afghans who aided the American government during the 20-year war. U.S. officials also have evaded congressional investigations into the matter and misled lawmakers for months about the number of Americans trapped in the country once the Taliban cut off access to airports. The Biden administration has thus far rebuffed congressional efforts and those from outside groups to determine how it is vetting scores of Afghan refugees that have been brought into the United States since the withdrawal, including how these individuals are being screened for terrorism ties.
CASA, which attempted to obtain these documents through Freedom of Information Act requests filed in January 2022, argues that "without litigation, [the State Department] will not produce the requested documents," which are likely to shed light on the chaos that played out behind closed doors within the administration as the evacuation effort spiraled out of control. The State Department "wrongfully withheld agency records requested by CASA by failing to comply with the statutory time limits for making a determination on these FOIA requests, and by withholding from disclosure records responsive to CASA’s FOIA requests to DOS," the group maintains.
The group wants the State Department to turn over all of the requested documents and stop stonewalling CASA’s FOIA requests, which have sat in administrative limbo for months. In addition to information about vetting and those trapped in Afghanistan, CASA wants the State Department to provide it with internal communications that could detail the administration's efforts to downplay security concerns.
"The criminal and terrorist networks in Afghanistan are real and they are extensive," CASA said in a statement about its lawsuit. "Americans have a right to know the people being brought to our country are not tied to them. Yet the U.S. government continues to hide the records surrounding the vetting process of refugees from the country who were admitted to the United States. Nor is State willing to reveal the real number of Americans left behind or if legitimate warnings were brushed aside."
During and after the evacuation, Biden administration officials claimed for months that the number of Americans stranded behind enemy lines in the country was around 100. Lawmakers from both parties, however, disputed that number and disclosed that they were in contact with thousands who had trouble getting help from the State Department. To this day, it is unclear how many Americans were left behind and if any remain trapped in the country. Nonprofit organizations say at least 78,000 Afghans who worked with the United States were left behind.
The evacuation, CASA argues in the suit, was "conducted in a country controlled by a hostile government previously overthrown by U.S. forces, [and] was marked by chaos and ambiguity regarding who was, and who was not, being evacuated. That ambiguity extended to, for example, how many [U.S.-aligned Afghans]—at risk due to their support of the U.S.— were evacuated; furthermore, it was unclear whether the U.S. was vetting Afghan evacuees to ensure that they did not pose a national security, or other, risk to the U.S."
Internal communications between the State Department and other agencies are likely to corroborate reports that the Biden administration ordered evacuation flights to be packed with unvetted Afghans.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R., Mo.), disclosed in October 2021 that an internal Biden administration directive ordered officials to overfill flights. "Total inflow to the U.S. must exceed the number of seats available. Err on the side of excess," an Aug. 16 email stated. "This guidance provides clear discretion and direction to fill seats and to provide special consideration for women and children when we have seats."
CASA argues in the suit that the State Department has "wrongfully withheld agency records" related to its screening process and failed "to comply with the statutory time limits" for providing the requested documents.
"Americans witnessed the mismanagement and chaos of the withdrawal from Afghanistan," CASA director Adam Turner said in a statement on the suit. "Yet the State Department is unwilling to reveal what happened around this humiliating episode—were warnings of Afghanistan’s rapid collapse ignored, how many Americans and others we had committed to evacuate were left behind, were those admitted to the United States properly vetted? Americans deserve the answers to these and other questions. State’s lack of transparency is gravely concerning."