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Tipsheet

EXCLUSIVE: After Catastrophic Afghanistan Withdrawal, Sens. Blackburn and Hagerty Demand Assurances on Ukraine

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

As the crisis continues in Ukraine with a looming threat of a Russian invasion, Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, both Republicans from Tennesee, are demanding answers from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to ensure that the Biden administration does not repeat the same failures when it comes to leaving Americans behind following the catastrophic withdrawal of Afghanistan.

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In a letter dated February 22 that was shared exclusively with Townhall, the senators also begin by indicating they're ready to take action. "We write to express our grave concern regarding the safety and evacuation of Americans in Ukraine. Given the disorderly and chaotic evacuation of U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents, and Afghan allies amid the disastrous Afghanistan withdrawal in 2021—an evacuation mission that remains incomplete—Congress is willing and ready to conduct proper oversight responsibilities on behalf of the  American people," the letter's opening paragraph reads.

As the letter references, the Department of State authorized the departure of U.S.  government employees and ordered the departure of family members of U.S. government employees at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv. In urging all Americans to leave Ukraine, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan made it clear that they should not expect the U.S. military to rescue them. 

Further, a White House official indicated on February 9 that "To be clear, we are not planning for a mass evacuation of American citizens from Ukraine." The letter thus asks what the administration's plans are "to evacuate U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents if they remain in parts of  Ukraine occupied by the Russian military?"

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Another question points out that the State Department currently reports as many as 23,000 Americans reside in Ukraine, and asks to "the Department’s knowledge, how many U.S. citizens have safely evacuated from Ukraine?"

"What is the U.S. government’s plan to protect U.S. citizens and facilitate the evacuation of  American citizens from Ukraine during a Russian invasion," a third question asks.

Another question also addresses intelligence information. "Is the Biden Administration sharing critical intelligence information with Ukraine to defend not only its sovereignty, but also American citizens in the country," a fourth question asks. 

And another question asks about evacuation orders in place. " Is there an up-to-date Noncombatant Evacuation Operation plan for Ukraine in place as of today? Is the interagency conducting a Rehearsal of Concept (ROC) walk on a potential Noncombatant Evacuation Operation out of Ukraine? If yes, please describe that ROC and  what advice is being provided to senior leaders?"

The final question requests a final briefing, based on the answer. "Do any war games consider an immediate, total seizure of Ukraine by Russian troops," it asks, in which case the senators "request a classified briefing as soon as possible to update us on likely scenarios and response options."

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In closing, the senators indicate they are looking for, in "the near-term... a detailed response that addresses each of the above questions." It's also clear that they expect to be briefed on these matters. "We welcome an open dialogue, including ongoing regular principal-level classified and unclassified briefings to Senators, with the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, and other relevant agencies on these matters," the senators also write.

Sens. Blackburn and Hagerty have reason to reference the withdrawal from Afghanistan in their letter. As Matt covered earlier this month, a Senate report recently released from Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) of the Foreign Relations Committee has the figure at around a minimum of 9,000 people were left behind when the last of the U.S. military withdrew on August 31.

Further, the crisis in Ukraine may very well be related to the withdrawal from Afghanistan in how it emboldened other bad actors, including Russia's Vladimir Putin, as figures across the political spectrum suggested. This includes not only Republicans such as former President Donald Trump, Rep. Mike McCaul of Texas, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, but also Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski of New Jersey.

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The Biden administration has stuck to the talking point of dismissing such a narrative comparing the two foreign policy crises. From White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki to Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby, the administration has offered that the United States was ending a war in Afghanistan, while it has been trying to prevent one in Ukraine. 

With such a catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan, though, it is entirely possible that war could once more return to the area, forcing the United States to get involved once again. 

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