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Sen. Shelley Moore Capito Seeking Answers on Withdrawal From Afghanistan

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W. Va., speaks to reporters after a luncheon with senate Republicans at the Capitol in Washington, on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Amanda Andrade-Rhoades)

CHARLESTON — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito wants answers from President Joe Biden regarding the controversial pull-out of U.S. forces from Afghanistan and the growing crisis at the U.S. southern border.

Capito held a virtual briefing Thursday from her Capitol Hill office with members of the West Virginia press corps. The Senate was back this week after a work period designated for members to return to their states.

While attention this week is on negotiations between moderate and progressive Democratic lawmakers regarding the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation deal, the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure framework, and raising the debt ceiling, Capito said she didn’t want the Afghanistan issue to get lost.

“The exit from Afghanistan obviously weighs pretty heavily on all of us,” Capito said. “We left American citizens behind. We left the Afghans who had helped us, whether it was through interpretive services, intelligence, all kinds of services. We left many Afghans behind. It was a rushed and hurried exit. Quite frankly, I think it was humiliating for the United States and for the world to see.”

According to a Gallup poll, Biden’s approval rating shrunk to 43% with 53% disapproving, due in part to people’s reactions to the Afghanistan withdrawal. According to the Biden administration, more than 124,000 Afghans and others were able to be airlifted by Aug. 30.

The administration claims that more than 100 Americans remain in the country who wish to leave, though CNN reported Thursday that members of the House Armed Services Committee were told more than 75 Americans have been airlifted in the last few weeks, causing doubts among lawmakers about the real number of Americans remaining. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are expected to testify next week before various Senate committees.

“I want answers … They’ve got, I think, deep questions to answer,” Capito said. “Why was there no planning? What was your advice to the President? What advice did he take or not take? Why did we leave Bagram Air Base in the middle of the night without telling our NATO partners or Afghan partners? Why did we give up that asset? What’s going to happen to our equipment?

“I think the big question going forward is not only what happened, but how are we going to keep our intelligence and ears to the ground without some kind of presence to see terrorist cells developing and other things that want to destroy us and others in the free part of the world,” Capito continued. “I think that’s a big question.”

As the ranking Republican member of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee, Capito also wants answers on the Biden administration security plans at the U.S. border with Mexico. According to Politico, thousands of refugees – many of Haitian nationality who immigrated to South America and made their way north when jobs dried up – have set up camps under a bridge in Del Rio, Texas.

Capito’s subcommittee appropriates funding to the U.S. Border Patrol. Capito said she spoke to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and a member of the Border Patrol’s leadership about the issues at the border and what the administration needs.

“This is a 30-year veteran of the Border Patrol who says he’s never seen anything like what’s going on in Del Rio with the Haitian population with 15,000 people under a bridge in very, very inhumane conditions,” Capito said. “I think the word is out in south and central America and other places that our borders are open … this is no way to keep our borders safe.”

Capito said the border crisis helps fuel a drug crisis here in West Virginia. According to data compiled by the Attorney General’s Office, fentanyl — a synthetic opioid more powerful than morphine — overdose deaths were up in several counties in 2020, particularly in southern West Virginia and the Eastern Panhandle. According to the Department of Health and Human Resources, there were 1,275 confirmed overdoses reported in 2020, up from 878 in 2019.

One of the major avenues for getting fentanyl into the U.S. is through the U.S./Mexico border. Capito said with more federal assets being used to care for people, it’s taking assets away from drug interdiction efforts.

“If your eyes are over here, that means the drug cartels are smart enough to know how to figure out to make sure that that fentanyl heroin, that’s killing West Virginians, is getting into our country,” Capito said. “I think that is a very, very large concern.”

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