GOP Reps. Young Kim of California, Elise Stefanik of New York and Michael McCaul of Texas are introducing legislation known as the RESCUES Act to establish more congressional oversight of the management of private Afghanistan evacuation operations.
“Biden’s failed withdrawal from Afghanistan needlessly left behind American citizens and Afghan allies,” Stefanik, the GOP Conference chairperson, said in a statement first reported by Fox News Digital. “Americans deserve to know their taxpayer dollars are being put to good use by providing for the rescue of those left stranded, so we must have clarity and accountability from the Department of State.”
The legislation is called the Rescue Endangered SIVs and Citizens and Urgently Evacuate to Safety (RESCUES) Act of 2022, and it targets the ongoing efforts to get American citizens and Afghan allies out of the Taliban-controlled country.
The bill would require the secretary of state to provide a report to the House and Senate foreign affairs committees on “funding provided by the Department of State to nongovernmental entities for the purposes of evacuating covered individuals from Afghanistan.”
According to the bill text, a “covered individual” is a national of the United States, a lawful permanent resident, an Afghan who has a special immigrant visa or applied for one, or an Afghan national who is being processed under the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.
Thirteen U.S. service members lost their lives in the chaotic and deadly evacuation effort from the Kabul airport. The Biden administration ended military-led evacuations by Aug. 31, marking the end of the 20-year war.
But not everyone got out in time and private organizations and congressional offices have been trying to step up and fill the void. The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that the State Department in November was tracking 126 Americans still in Afghanistan, with five ready to depart. Capitol Hill has been frustrated with a lack of transparency and accurate information from the administration on the condition of those left behind.
“The State Department’s disorganized handling of evacuations and lack of communication with Congress and the American people continues to prompt questions and warrant answers,” Kim said in a statement. “Our mission is not over as long as Americans remain in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.”
State Department spokesperson Ned Price was asked on Jan. 11 about the Americans still stuck in Afghanistan and evacuation flights being grounded. Price said since Aug. 31, the State Department has assisted the departure of 479 U.S. citizens and 450 lawful permanent residents but acknowledged more are seeking to leave.
“We are working currently with a few dozen U.S. citizens and their families who have identified themselves as prepared to depart and who have the necessary travel documents to do so,” Price said during a news conference.
“We believe at this point that, in addition to those few dozen U.S. citizens and their families, there is a relatively small number, probably fewer than 200 – again, with all the caveats that apply to these numbers fluctuating – but we’re in touch with about 150 other U.S. citizens who don’t want to leave Afghanistan at this point or otherwise not ready to depart,” he said.
The GOP legislation, which has an uphill climb with Democrats in control, would require the State Department to report to Congress information on costs of the private evacuation forces, whether any fees were paid directly to the Taliban, the number of people who have been evacuated and the number of people who are still seeking to get out.
“The Biden Administration’s mishandling of the Afghanistan withdrawal was a disaster, resulting in American citizens and partners being left behind and private organizations burdened with helping them,” McCaul said in a statement. “Congressional oversight is absolutely necessary to ensure U.S. taxpayers know how and when their money is being used to rescue Americans and allies.”
Other GOP original co-sponsors of the bill include Reps. Ronny Jackson of Texas, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Chris Smith of New Jersey and Brian Mast of Florida.