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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. Last week, the committee released its first and second tranches of transcribed interviews with State Department officials.

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

Transcribed interviews were conducted with State Department officials, including:

  • Derek Chollet, Counselor of the U.S. Department of State; serving as senior policy advisor to Secretary Blinken and nominated by President Biden to serve as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; 
  • Brian McKeon, Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources during the deadly Afghanistan withdrawal and evacuation.

See a summary of Chollet’s entire transcribed interview here. Derek Chollet serves as the Counselor of the U.S. Department of State, where he serves at the rank of Under Secretary. In this position he serves as a senior policy advisor to the Secretary of State on a range of issues. Chollet was nominated by President Biden to serve as the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy in September 2023 and renominated in January 2024. In his transcribed interview, Chollet asserted approximately 100 times that he did not remember or recall, in response to substantive questions posed by the Committee related to President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, including, but not limited to the below issues. This is notable given Chollet’s role as a key policymaker on Afghanistan and one of Secretary Blinken’s senior most advisors. Further, multiple officials in the State Department have pointed to Chollet as playing a key role on issues pertaining to Afghanistan.

Chollet claims he did not recall, among other things:

  • Briefings he received on Afghanistan throughout 2021 (Page 61, Lines 14-18; Page 85, Lines 18-19; Page 142, Lines 5-25);
  • Countries he worked with during the non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) (Page 34, Lines 8-25);
  • Recommendations he provided during the interagency process (including his recommendations on the Taliban’s compliance with the Doha Agreement) (Page 31, Lines 15-21);
  • Secretary Blinken’s view was on whether the Taliban had cut ties with terrorist groups (Page 40, Lines 17-21);
  • Risks associated with maintaining U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 2021 (Page 99, Lies 19-22);
  • Why negotiations with the Taliban had flatlined early in the Biden administration (Page 28, Lines 1-2);
  • Advice he provided to Secretary Blinken regarding Afghanistan policy (Page 19, Lines 9-17);
  • Policy options Secretary Blinken supported regarding Afghanistan (Page 29, Lines 13-14);
  • Claims that U.S. allies’ [UK and Germany] disappointment with the decisions surrounding Afghanistan did not have any impact on bilateral relations with those allies today or at the time. (Page 113, Lines 4-10).

Chollet testified that the decision in 2020 to drawdown troops from 4,500 to 2,500 did not align with the Doha Agreement given reports by the U.S. Department of Treasury that the Taliban maintained ties with al-Qaeda. (Page 70, Lines 9-17). In 2021 while serving as Counselor, he, however, did not recall considering the Taliban’s ties with al-Qaeda and “did not compare that to their obligations in the Doha [A]greement.” (Page 40, Lines 18-22).

When Chollet was told other interviewees had described him as the senior official responsible for decision making on Afghanistan issues:

  • “I would say that the Secretary of State is the senior official responsible for decision making on Afghanistan issues.” (Page 19, Lines 1-2).

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

Brian McKeon was sworn in as Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources on March 19, 2021, serving in that position until December 31, 2022. During the withdrawal from Afghanistan, as DMR, McKeon served was third in the State Department’s chain of command. McKeon was the senior leader in the State Department who had overall responsibility for planning the withdrawal and potential evacuationMcKeon testified he split duties with Counselor to the State Department, Derek Chollet. McKeon worked closely with Chollet and regularly discussed matters, stating, “His office was literally next to mine and we shared the use of a bathroom…I would often go in there and we would shoot the breeze on stuff.” (Page 31, Lines 21-25).

Despite serving as the State Department’s senior leader on the Afghanistan withdrawal and potential evacuation, McKeon testified he was not involved in any planning related to President Biden’s decision to withdraw or failure to enforce the Doha Agreement’s conditions.  According to McKeon, the interagency process on Afghanistan was led by the White House and the National Security Council. 

When testifying to the NSC’s role in the planning process and leaving behind a residual military force in Kabul to protect the U.S. Embassy, McKeon testified, “I don’t remember whether the NSC had a position going into these conversations.  In theory they shouldn’t because they should be brokering agreement not steering decisions, but that’s not always how it works.” (Page 113, Lines 24-25; Page 114, Lines 1-3).

McKeon testified he was responsible for all SIV operations, stating, “I was lead on the SIV issue and the anticipated flow of refugees out of Afghanistan if the Taliban started taking over parts of the country” (Page 14, Lines 1-2).

McKeon was nevertheless unaware of the number of potential SIV applicants, testifying, “I don’t remember the number. Potentially eligible, you know, that would’ve been very hard to forecast, because there are so many people who might have worked for the Department of Defense, in particular, that we would not necessarily have a sense of that universe.” (Page 81, Lines 21-25). He testified further that decisions as to which populations were eligible to evacuated “were made collectively in the interagency” led by the NSC. (Page 148, Lines 15-19; Page 174, Lines 12-17).

McKeon stated the State Department’s planning considered all possibilities, but no discrete part of the plan addressed the Taliban seizing Kabul, testifying, “Yeah, I don’t think — as we discussed the evacuation and the NEO, I think we considered all possibilities. I don’t think there were discrete elements of the plan, Taliban in Kabul or not. I don’t remember.” (Page 79, Lines 23-25).

According to McKeon, during the NEO, State and DOD argued about who was going to pay for what: “And there were also, as is usually the way in these things, arguments between us and the DOD about who was going to pay for what. I think some of that got deferred — some of the litigation on that got deferred until after August 31, but some of it was in real-time, where DOD was signaling, you know, ‘State’s going to pay for that.’ And, you know, at certain times, my staff recommended and I agreed that we needed to jump on it right away before it became a reality and all of a sudden we were getting a $10 billion bill for reimbursement for something that we believed under the MOU was DOD’s responsibility.” (Page 169, Line 5-12).

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

See the committee’s second 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

See the committee’s letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee regarding Chollet’s nomination to Under Secretary of Defense for Policy here.