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Washington, D.C. — Today, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Michael McCaul announced another release of transcribed interviews with State Department officials charged with leading the United States’ civilian evacuation from Afghanistan. Over the past few weeks, the committee released its first, second, third, and fourth tranches of transcribed interviews with key State Department officials involved in the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

The transcribed interviews were conducted over several months and are minimally redacted.

Transcribed interviews were conducted with State Department officials, including:

  • Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation during Trump and Biden administrations, and the fall of Kabul.

See a summary of Khalilzad’s entire transcribed interview here.

According to Khalilzad, the first step towards negotiating an agreement with the Taliban occurred under the Obama administration, not the Trump administration, testifying, “There had been, earlier, maybe a year earlier perhaps, under President Obama’s period, that I had received a letter that I wasn’t sure was authentic, saying — from Mullah Yaqoob, allegedly — that, you know, there was no military solution to what was going on and they are interested for a way out.” (Page 13, Lines 22-23; Page 14, Lines 1-5).

According to Khalilzad, the Trump administration gave him three priorities for negotiations with the Taliban: to negotiate an agreement that allows a safe and orderly withdrawal, ensure that Afghanistan would not revert to a haven for terrorist organizations, and the necessity of intra-Afghan negotiations. (Page 15, Lines 15-25; Page 16, Lines 1-16).

During the summer of 2020, Khalilzad pushed the Afghan government to release thousands of Taliban prisoners because the Taliban refused to negotiate with the Afghan government without the release. “I did. And the Secretary of State did, and others. Because, as part of the agreement, there was — after the signing, before beginning intra-Afghan negotiations, the Talibs wanted some confidence building measures. They argued for release of prisoners…The Afghan Government was not opposed to the principle; they were opposed to the number, that the number was too high. It should be equal numbers. . . . So, yes, they were a part of my agreement, and the reason for it was that we wanted to get to intra-Afghan negotiations, which was a big concession — the achievement that the Talibs would sit with the government that they had refused to sit, to get into that process — while we were still there.” (Page 260, Lines 1-20, Page 261, 1-8).

Khalilzad provided a briefing in December 2020 to President Biden’s State Department transition team – the most senior representative at that meeting was Counselor Chollet, whom the Committee interviewed in December 2023. (Page 17, Lines 1-25; Page 18, Lines 1-6). … Khalilzad testified that while he technically reported to Secretary Blinken, in practice much of his early communications went through Chollet – Chollet largely failed to recall his involvement on Afghanistan policy before the Committee in his December 2023 interview. Khalilzad also communicated with D-MR McKeon, Deputy Secretary Sherman, and Under Secretary Nuland. (Page 20, Lines 12-25).

Upon assuming his role as SRAR under the Biden administration, Khalilzad did not receive any new guidance or instruction. Khalilzad only received new guidance months into the Biden administration (1) because the Biden administration extended the withdrawal window from 14 months to 18 months, Khalilzad was tasked with having the Taliban extend the ceasefire; (2) Khalilzad was also directed to accelerate the political negotiations and include the international community in the negotiations. He was not otherwise told to deviate from anything the Trump administration had done. (Page 142, Lines 8-25; Page 143, Lines 1-8).

Khalilzad participated in senior level interagency meetings that reviewed the Doha agreement in the first several months of the Biden administration. (Page 144, Lines 22- 25; Page 145, Lines 1-7). Khalilzad advised the Biden administration that fighting would continue if no agreement was reached between the Afghan government and the Taliban. (Page 146, Lines 10-18). Khalilzad testified there were three options the Biden administration considered regarding the Doha Agreement: (1) “essentially not to insist on conditionality, just emphasize withdrawal and counterterrorism”; (2) tear up the agreement like President Trump did with the Iran nuclear deal, “saying it’s flawed, we don’t want to do that”; or (3) enforce conditionality, saying “We would agree to implement Doha, the withdrawal part, provided the other elements are — the Talib part, commitments.” Khalilzad stated that President Biden did not select a conditions-based withdrawal. (Page 81, Lines 2-15).

Khalilzad stated he recommended a conditions-based approach to the Doha Agreement; he believes Secretary Blinken recommended the same, but others in the administration refuted their recommendations on the basis that the Taliban would go back to targeting U.S. forces. Both Khalilzad and Secretary Blinken ultimately supported President Biden’s unconditional withdrawal. “Well, Secretary Blinken and I, I believe, did recommend that conditionality. That’s my judgment, that conditionality would be the prudent thing to do. But then the response was, can you get the other side to — the Talibs not to go back to fighting?” (Page 147, Lines 5-7).

According to Khalilzad, the White House and the National Security Council (NSC) were leading the entire withdrawal process throughout 2021. (Page 85, lines 5-10).

During August 2021 – the month of the deadly evacuation – key decisions pertaining to engagement with the Taliban came from President Biden’s NSC. (Page 85, Lines 24-25; Page 86, lines 1-2).

Khalilzad testified that, during at points throughout the negotiations, there were times he believed that the Taliban negotiated merely as a stall tactic to wait out the U.S. until its military forces withdrew to zero. (Page 266, Lines 8-25; Page 267, Line 1).

Khalilzad believes Biden’s announcement in April 2021 to withdraw all U.S troops negatively affected the morale of the Afghan government forces. Khalilzad explained that, “The U.S. withdrawal had a psychological impact and negatively affected the relative balance of power for the government. That’s obvious. You have two fighting forces. There is a third force that supports one side. That force wants to leave. It affects the balance. But it affects the balance to the degree that it led to disintegration, and that is the shocking part. I wouldn’t have been surprised if there had been some restraint and some loss of territory based on the shift in the balance.” (Page 229, Lines 8-24).

Khalilzad claimed no one assessed whether the Taliban adhered to the Doha agreement as a whole in 2021. However, he said there were intelligence reports that determined the Taliban’s adherence to the terrorism issue was “mixed to positive, not completely satisfactory, mixed to positive.” (Page 189, Lines 7-25).

When asked if he was deceived by the Taliban, Khalilzad responded: “No, I don’t know. Nobody is honest throughout. But they – we negotiated. They made some commitments. We made some commitments. The agreement was condition based. We did not hold them to the conditions at the end.” (Page 227, Lines 15-17).

Khalilzad’s assumption that the Afghan government could hold out for two years did not change until August 2021. (Page 38, Lines 13-19).

When asked about the State Department’s contingency planning in Afghanistan, Khalilzad admitted that the State Department generally fails to plan for contingencies, testifying, “I think not enough of it is done in the – in our profession, in diplomacy planning in that regard.” (Page 38, Lines 1-12).

Khalilzad viewed President Biden as ultimately in charge of the evacuation operations, saying, “[T]he President is in charge, and I have to say the President spent a lot of time on this, to say it was the most intense period of focus.” (Page 80, Lines 12-16).

Khalilzad contended that al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent no longer exists, despite evidence presented to the contrary. …Khalilzad did acknowledge that Ayman al-Zawahiri (Osama bin Laden’s number two and the longtime leader of al-Qaeda after bin Laden’s death) hid in a Taliban-Haqqani safehouse in Kabul in 2022, and Khalilzad admitted that this clearly violated the Doha Agreement: “A violation, full and complete, and — yeah, that — yeah. That’s all I can say in this setting.” (Page 277, Lines 12-13).

See the committee’s first tranche of released transcribed interviews here

See the committee’s second tranche of released transcribed interviews here.

See the committee’s third tranche of released transcribed interviews here.

See the committee’s fourth tranche of released transcribed interviews here

To read the committee’s interim report on the Biden administration’s disastrous 2021 withdrawal from Afghanistan, click here