EXCLUSIVE: House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik doubled down on her calls to establish a 9/11-style commission to examine the United States’ involvement in Afghanistan, after top Pentagon officials testified in both the House and Senate this week, raising more questions on the Biden administration’s “failed” withdrawal of U.S. military assets.
Stefanik, R-N.Y., spoke exclusively with Fox News, following the House Armed Services Committee hearing featuring testimony from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley and head of U.S. Central Command Gen. Kenneth McKenzie.
“My main take away is the responsibility and accountability for the failed withdrawal rests only with Joe Biden,” she said, adding that it is “clear” the president ignored advice from his military advisers to maintain a presence of U.S. troops in the region in order to “address our counterterrorism mission.”
WASHINGTON, DC – MAY 14: U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) (R) speaks to members of the press after an election for House Republican Conference chair as House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L), and House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) (2nd L) listen at the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center May 14, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Rep. Stefanik has won the election and she is replacing Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who was ousted after she refused to endorse former President Donald Trump’s claim that the 2020 election was stolen, to be the next Conference chair. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Stefanik was referring to testimony from top officials who said they recommended maintaining a presence of 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Both Milley and McKenzie testified to that on Tuesday, and again Wednesday. Austin confirmed that their “input was received” by the president and considered by the president for sure.”
The White House, following their testimony, said that advice to maintain a U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan from military advisers was “split.”
But Stefanik slammed the response as insufficient.
“Biden is becoming an expert in passing the buck,” she said. “They pass the buck on every issue of importance, but there is nothing more important for a commander in chief than making decisions when it comes to national security and men and women in uniform.”
She added: “They accountability and responsibility rests with the president, and for him to pass the buck, and his press secretary to try to blame others is shameful.”
Stefanik went on to warn that, in the coming months, it is “very likely” the U.S. “will be less safe than we were pre-9/11,” adding that possibility is “very concerning” for her as she represents Fort Drum, the “most deployed unit in the U.S. army.”
“They have put their lives and limb on the line for decades,” she said.
Meanwhile, Stefanik and House Armed Services Committee colleague Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., introduced legislation in August calling for the establishment of a commission to examine U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
“The purpose is to make sure we have an independent analysis of the decisions and the mistakes that were made, starting from going into Afghanistan after 9/11, to the failed withdrawal in the Biden administration,” Stefanik told Fox News.
Stefanik stressed the importance for the commission to consist of members “outside of Congress and the Department of Defense” to ensure that it can “take an independent look” at the 20-year war.
Stefanik explained the commission would have ten members who would be appointed by the president of the United States, Republicans and Democrats. The members would have a “wide range” of experience and “independent viewpoints.”
Former President Donald Trump also called for the creation of a commission in a statement Tuesday.
“Congress should set up a ‘Commission On the Disastrous Withdrawal from Afghanistan,’ to figure out what went wrong, why so many of our Warriors were killed, and why so much money (85 BILLION DOLLARS), in the form of Weapons and Military equipment, was left behind for the Taliban to use — and to sell to other countries,” Trump said.
“This is without question something that needs to be investigated further,” he continued. “Thirteen dead AMERICAN HEROES, billions of dollars of equipment, and hundreds of Americans still left behind in Afghanistan with the Taliban!”
Stefanik said she was “pleased” Trump called for the creation of the commission, saying that she believes the investigation is “very important for taxpayers as well,” citing the trillions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that funded U.S. operations in Afghanistan for two decades.
Stefanik and Wittman’s legislation would establish the “National Commission on United States Involvement in Afghanistan.”
The commission would examine and report on U.S. activities in Afghanistan since 2001, including actions by the U.S. Armed Forces, the intelligence community, and all relevant Federal departments and agencies.
The commission would also review actions and efforts of the U.S. with NATO partners, scrutinize goals and interests of the U.S. in the country as they evolved, including counterterrorism, stabilization objectives, and capacity-building efforts. The commission would look to determine whether the U.S. achieved those goals and interests.
Stefanik proposed the commission would also review whether assessments were “accurately and sufficiently communicated to policy makers and the American public.”
The commission would also “fully examine the drawdown efforts” of the U.S. and its allies in Afghanistan in the full withdrawal of military assets in August, including a “full review and assessment of diplomatic negotiations with the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, and the degree of consultation and communication” with NATO allies and the Afghan government.
Stefanik also proposed that the commission conduct “a full accounting and inventory of military equipment, monies, and United States government assets left in Afghanistan.”
The commission would “investigate and report its findings” to the president and Congress for “corrective measures to be taken to prevent future policy failures abroad.”
Stefanik’s renewed calls for a commission comes nearly a month after the Biden administration on Aug. 31 withdrew all U.S. military assets from the region after having a presence there for 20 years following the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
An Aug. 26 suicide bombing outside of Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport took the lives of 13 U.S. service members – 11 Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier. Eighteen other U.S. service members were wounded. The bombing also left more than 150 civilians dead.
As the Biden administration began the withdrawal of military assets, provincial capitals across Afghanistan began to fall to the Taliban. By mid-August, the Taliban attained control of two-thirds of Afghanistan. And by the time the U.S. withdrew all U.S. troops from the country on Aug. 31, Kabul had also fallen to the Taliban. In mid-August, U.S. intelligence assessments projected the capital city could fall to the Taliban within 90 days.
Administration officials have admitted to leaving more than 100 American citizens behind. Officials, though, said their mission in Afghanistan had shifted from a military mission to a diplomatic one, with some saying they were working with the Taliban to ensure safe passage for those Americans and U.S. visa holders, as well as some Afghan allies, to evacuate the country.
Milley, during the hearing Wednesday, called the war in Afghanistan a “strategic failure” for the United States, and warned that the Taliban “remain a terrorist organization” and maintain ties with al Qaeda.
“The Taliban was and remain a terrorist organization and they still have not broken ties with al Qaeda,” Milley testified. “I have no illusions who we are dealing with.”
Brooke Singman is a Politics Reporter for Fox News. Follow her on Twitter at @BrookeSingman.