FIRST ON FOX: The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee accused President Biden of deceiving Congress and the American public by diminishing the threat that al Qaeda posed to Afghanistan when withdrawing U.S. troops last year.
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, told Fox News Digital that the killing of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri proved Biden was disingenuous when he argued previously that there was no reason for the U.S. to remain in Afghanistan.
“The president was not being truthful,” said Turner. “Now, as they try to take a victory lap for their actions of killing Zawahri in Afghanistan, they’re having to admit that his presence in Afghanistan is evidence that al Qaeda has a foothold and a presence and a relationship with the Taliban.”
Biden argued last year that America’s “forever war” in Afghanistan had run its course. The president repeatedly stressed that the initial reason for the war, to combat al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, had been achieved.
“What interest do we have in Afghanistan at this point, with al Qaeda gone,” Biden said in August 2021, when defending his decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. “We went to Afghanistan for the express purpose of getting rid of al Qaeda in Afghanistan as well as – as well as – getting Osama bin Laden. And we did.”
Republicans have long argued that the White House botched the U.S. exit from Afghanistan. They say that Biden undercut the legitimacy of the prior Afghan government by withdrawing troops and abandoning billions in military hardware to the Taliban.
Now GOP lawmakers say that Zawahri’s presence in Kabul at the time of his death shatters Biden’s rationale for leaving Afghanistan. Turner told Fox News Digital that the White House disproved its own theory.
“The president and the White House by their own actions have disproved their own theory as to the basis that they used for pulling out of Afghanistan,” said Turner. “Biden was being disingenuous in stating that al Qaeda was gone and then [by] diminishing the overall characterization of the threat to the United States.”
The White House argues the president’s comments about al Qaeda last year were more about the group’s diminished presence and role in plotting terrorism from Afghanistan, not its presence in the country.
“They weren’t playing a major role in operations or resourcing or planning in Afghanistan,” said John Kirby, the White House coordinator for the National Security Council. “I think — again, without getting into numbers — we would still assess that to be the case.”
Earlier this week, Biden announced that a U.S. drone strike had killed Zawairi, the 71-year-old leader of al Qaeda, in Kabul. The terrorist mastermind, who was linked to the September 11, 2001 attack, was staying with family at the house of an aide to a senior Taliban official.
National security experts say Zawahri’s presence in Afghanistan appears to indicate that the Taliban regime is giving al Qaeda safe haven.
“Afghanistan is a petri dish growing threats to the region and beyond,” said Dan Hoffman, a former director of the CIA’s Middle East and North Africa division. “The one lesson we learned from Sept. 11 is that you can’t give these guys ungoverned space.”
GOP lawmakers say the Biden administration needs to be more transparent about the presence of terrorist groups in Afghanistan and the ramifications of the U.S. withdrawal. They say the White House has refused to release documents and certain information pertaining to the U.S. exit.
“It’s very disturbing this administration is not providing information to Congress,” said Turner. “But I think they know that if they do, it will be absolutely damning and show the devastating impact of this president’s decision to cut and run from Afghanistan.”