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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, and third 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:

  • Carol Z. Perez, former Director General of the Foreign Service at the State Department, U.S. Ambassador to Chile, and Acting Under Secretary for Management during the fall of Kabul;
  • Ned Price, Senior Advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and former State Department Spokesperson during the fall of Kabul; and 
  • Suzy George, Chief of Staff to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department.   

See a summary of Perez’s entire transcribed interview here

Ambassador Carol Z. Perez began her career at the State Department in 1987 and served 35 years until her retirement in December 2022. She served as U.S. Ambassador to Chile under the Obama administration and later Director General of the Foreign Service under the Trump administration. Ambassador Perez served as Acting Under Secretary for Management under the Biden administration, from January 21, 2021 through December 2021.

In April 2021, Perez traveled to Kabul to assess the needs of Embassy Kabul, testifying, “When the President made an announcement, I had a conversation with [D-MR] Brian McKeon and said, you know, we should go out somebody should go out and just make sure that the embassy has what they need for the future. And I was the person, so I went out, traveled there.” (Page 14, Lines 22-25). Perez asserted that the State Department did not designate a leader responsible for overseeing the planning of the Afghanistan withdrawal from Afghanistan, stating, “the Department is not generally a senior leader. When we have — as I said, when we start to plan for any kind of contingency, that is the responsibility of a bureau working with the post. We don’t, sort of, take one senior leader and do that.” (Page 21, Lines 22-25).

Perez testified that, throughout the withdrawal, the State Department’s focus was on maintaining “an enduring diplomatic presence” in Afghanistan. (Page 38, Lines, 15-16). When asked who gave her those orders, Perez responded she took initiative from President Biden’s public comments, testifying “It’s the President’s statement that, you know, we were going to withdraw but there would be, you know, a remaining diplomatic presence. That, to me, was signaled, right? And, again, I never talked to the President in my life. But, you know, that statement was, like, ‘Okay. So now what do we do?’ Right?” (Page 84, Lines 17-22).

During the withdrawal, Perez’s assessment of the situation centered around Kabul and not Afghanistan in its entirety: “Again, Kabul itself was quiet, you know, relatively speaking. There were not attacks on Americans. …If it stayed quiet, then perhaps, you know, work can continue.” (Page 35, Lines 10-14). Perez’s understanding of the security situation in Afghanistan did not change until Kabul fell, testifying that the State Department hoped for the best and did not see this coming, stating, “You know, I would say that I think we all were very much surprised by what happened. Because the — I’m not an expert, right? I mean, I’m dumped into this job, you know, with all due respect — which, you know, I did. And, you know, we’re talking about the Afghan Security Forces, and everybody thought that they would be there and that Kabul itself would stay safe. So I, you know, relied upon the people who had more experience than I did and expertise to, you know, help me assess whether or not this was a good thing or not, right?” “I mean, you hope for the best, right? So, you know, if Kabul could’ve held, I think it would’ve been okay[.]” (Page 35, Lines 15- 23; Page 39, Lines 9-12).

Perez was unsure what changes on the ground should have triggered the Non-Combatant Evacuation Operation (NEO) (Page 147, Lines 4-8), and it was unclear to her which entity was responsible for running the airport: “I don’t know for sure. Again, I was not focused on what was happening on the ground there, because the military came in, and once the military came — you know, our military came in, then I assumed that they took over those operations.” (Page 147, Lines 4-8; Page 150, Lines 21-25; Page 151, Lines 1-3).

Perez testified that she never contemplated Hamid Karzai International Airport being breached or overrun. (Page 161, Lines 15-18). Stating further, that the State Department did not have any standard operating procedures for this type of operation or scenario. (Page 161, Lines 24-25; Page 162, Lines 1-8).

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

Price relied on Secretary Blinken’s guidance when performing his duties as State Department Spokesperson throughout the withdrawal, and that he engaged with senior Department officials daily, including Secretary Blinken, former Deputy Secretary Sherman, and former Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources McKeon. (Page 11, Lines 12-25; Page 12, Lines 1-3; Page 14, Lines 21-25; Page 15, Line 1).

Price also engaged daily with the White House, but most frequently with President Biden’s National Security Council, whom he engaged with daily.  And when Admiral Kirby transitioned from his role as the Department of Defense to National Security Council Spokesperson, they similarly engaged daily. (Page 13, Lines 18-25; Page 14, lines 1-12).

According to Price, he never received a formal briefing on whether the Taliban adhered to the Doha Agreement. Price asserted that the Taliban’s adherence to the Doha Agreement was immaterial to decision makers in the Biden administration. Instead, he testified that the main issue they considered was the degree of risk in maintaining a U.S. military presence, stating, “I — if you are asking if I asked for, or ever received a formal briefing on that very subject, the answer is no, at least I don’t recall that. With that said, I recall having a number of conversations around the fact that in some ways, Taliban adherence was immaterial.” (Page 67, Lines 2-6).

According to Price, Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources McKeon held responsibility for leading the State Department’s contingency planning, stating, “Brian McKeon tended to be the Department’s point person when it came to the contingency planning and contingency operations that were initiated in the early days and weeks of the administration. Brian, as I recall, was most involved in the interagency discussions. He would be involved in the tabletop exercises. He would be involved in the contingency planning discussions that took place at the White House, at the Department, with the Department of Defense, with other interagency partners.” (Page 20, Lines 13-20).

Price was unable to speak to an official assessment or determination by the Biden administration regarding the Taliban’s continued sponsorship of terrorist groups, testifying, “I couldn’t speak to the context of the formal assessment. I can speak to my knowledge predicated on conversations on discussions over the course of months. But I think the word uneven applies here as well when you talk about the terrorist landscape that exists in Afghanistan. Of course, al Qaeda is what we were primarily concerned with in October of 2001 when we went in. It has evolved to incorporate ISIS-K and other groups. … It is certainly accurate that they continued to host al Qaeda into at least 2022.” (Page 69, Lines 11-24).

In a February 2021 press briefing, Price stated that the best way to advance America’s interest was to press all parties to adhere to the Doha Agreement. Price testified in his interview that “all parties” included the Taliban. (Page 73, Lines 13-25; Page 74, Lines 1-4). When pressed why President Biden announced his Go-to-Zero order despite the Taliban’s failure to adhere to the Doha Agreement, Price responded the conditionality of the Doha Agreement was “in some ways, that was immaterial.” (Page 75, Lines 6-12). Testifying further, “what mattered most was the way the Taliban chose to interpret the agreement that the last administration struck with them.” (Page 74, Lines 8-10).

According to Price, as late as August 14, 2021 – one day before the Taliban surrounded Kabul – the State Department’s plan was to maintain a diplomatic presence in Afghanistan. (Page 136, Lines 20-22).

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

Suzy George spent the majority of her career working for former U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, six years at the State Department and fourteen in the private sector. She then worked as Chief of Staff and Executive Secretary on the Obama National Security Council. Next, she worked on President Biden transition’s team and, in January 2021, joined the State Department as the Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Antony Blinken in January 2021 – a role she continues to serve in to date.

George testified that Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon held the principal responsibility for leading the State Department’s equities in the Afghanistan withdrawal and that Counselor to the Department Derek Chollet led the Afghanistan policy work. (Page 15, Lines 21-22; Page 16, Line 1).

George is unaware of a formal assessment regarding the Taliban’s reliability in adhering to their obligations under the Doha Agreement. (Page 37, Lines 4-9). George testified that the State Department decided in the Spring of 2021 that the U.S. Embassy Kabul would continue operations after the U.S. military withdrew to zero, pursuant to President Biden’s orders, stating, “In the spring of 2021, there was an ongoing process, parallel to the policy process, to plan for the withdrawal. Within that planning process, there were ongoing discussions about the ability to keep the embassy open post withdrawal. During the planning process, there was a series of — my recollection is that there were a series of discussions about under what circumstances the embassy would be able to remain open.” (Page 38, Lines 6-13).

George does not recall or know:

  • The prudent planning process that formulated withdrawal options for Afghanistan. However, she does recall concerns that insufficient plans were being developed. (Page 20, Lines 14-17; Page 21, Lines 20-22).
  • When she learned of President Biden’s Go-to-Zero plan, but assumed she learned of it a few days before the announcement. (Page 28, Lines 15-16).
  • What affect President Biden’s Go-to-Zero announcement had on the Afghan government’s stability. (Page 43, Lines 2-10).
  • When she learned that the Taliban refused to attend the Istanbul conference, which was key to negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government. (Page 65, Lines 21-25; Page 66, Lines 1-5).
  • When the Department first realized the Taliban was making significant gains in Afghanistan. (Page 66, Lines 12-15).
  • What steps the State Department took in response to the Taliban’s refusal to attend the Istanbul conference. (Page 66, Lines 6-8).
  • When NEO planning began. (Page 70, Lines 20-23).
  • A specific date when it became clear to the State Department that it could not sustain an embassy presence in Afghanistan. However, she estimates it was not until August 2021. (Page 72, Lines 14-21).
  • The efforts made to track Americans in Afghanistan prior to August 2021. (Page 84, Lines 4-11).
  • The specific number of SIVs in Afghanistan and does not know if the State Department ever determined a specific number. (Page 86, Lines 2-11).

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.

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