Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said he and a group of bipartisan lawmakers were denied access to refugees and holding facilities in Doha, Qatar, as members look to aid in evacuation efforts of constituents and Afghan allies that remain in Afghanistan.
The California Republican, who sits on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, said that while they were able to drive onto the Udeid Air Base without an escort and were provided a briefing from a U.S. general they were blocked from seeing what was happening first hand.
“We were able to get on to the airbase where all of our fighters were, drive around and then go and have a briefing with a one star General Donohue,” he told The Post in an interview.
“They were happy to give us the story of how great everything was in the evacuation, but denied any access to historic or current holding areas for refugees, and denied us any access to current refugees, including those that may be from our home or heading towards San Diego or other areas.”
Issa said he believes the decision to block lawmakers from entry is unprecedented and raises questions about the administration’s handling of the ongoing operations, adding that they were given an “ever changing story” about why they were not permitted inside the premises despite having worked to coordinate with officials in advance of the trip.
According to one senior GOP source said they began out outreach with the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) and the U.S. Embassy for members to tour the US side of al Udeid Air Base and Camp As Sayliyah (CAS) where the evacuated Afghan refugees were being housed and processed for relocation, having exchanged multiple emails on the matter starting as far back as Sept. 22.
“We began this congressional trip more than a month ago, a bipartisan group, we gave them our request to see both the base facilities, each of the two bases. In the beginning, there were refugees at both, now there are refugees in only one of them. And there was no serious pushback about anything until after we were here and then they said they couldn’t facilitate it because they were trying to complete the departure of these last 2,300 people,” Issa continued.
“In the unclassified briefing today, they claimed that the only thing holding up the 2,300 or so people that are still there was the amount of days until their measles vaccines [were effective]. Which begs the question: If these are Americans who were just waiting for the last few days after they’ve had vaccine shots what would be the harm of us visiting? They gave us plenty of opportunity to meet with airmen from our various home states for lunch, but denied any access to the facilities or the individuals who have been stranded there. But this is not a DOD [Department of Defense] decision even though they delivered the bad news, obviously this is a White House decision.”
Issa said that members on the trip — which was intended to look at the after-action on the evacuation and thank the “to thank the Qataris for what they did at a time of need” including taking in roughly 60,000 refugees into their country — each still had individuals from the districts that remained in Afghanistan, which he argued indicates the number of Americans and U.S. allies trapped in the country is significantly higher than the administration has portrayed.
“Each of us has one or more families that are still trapped in Afghanistan, to go forward and see what we could do to facilitate getting them out and to find out where the log jams are because Qatar is scheduling, at least two flights every week that can take Americans out, but they’re coordinating with the State Department that in many cases, can’t seem to get people onto the list to get onto the planes,” he said.
He added that when officials were pressed on numbers by members they received little clarification on the numbers.
“They’re only willing to admit to a portion of the Americans that people like myself have submitted them, their actual copies of their blue passports because we submit these and we submit them again and in some cases, they hand over information to the Taliban and these people get killed. So, it’s been very frustrating that it’s all one way, there are not 200 people left, there were whatever amount left they’re willing to admit,” he said.
“I’ll give you an example, this was about four weeks ago, 60 Members of Congress where it happened, all the Republicans, and said, ‘Who who are you working on and how many?’ And we added them up but we were over 200 with the members of Congress, so figuring that’s less than 10 percent of the members of the House in the Senate, you can imagine that if from our districts and own state, we could get 200 out of 60 members there was no question that there were more than 1000 active accounts that State Department were receiving from members of Congress.”
Issa said that one piece of information they received that they could not have obtained in a Congressional briefing was the chaos surrounding identifying those coming into the country due to the lack of identification documents refugees had.
“I think one of the things that the seven members, including [Rep.] Lou Corea (D-Calif.), a Democrat heard that may have been a little bit of a shock, is that 20 plus percent of the people who were brought out on these flights had no identification documentation at all. In other words, they simply showed up and were put on the airplane. They could say anybody’s name, they had had no vetting whatsoever.” he said.
“Now they might be very legitimately entitled to entry to the United States, they may have been interpreters, they may have been in peril, but at least 20 percent had no identification The remaining amount more than 40 percent of the total had identification that did not per se, connect them to United States. … The military, made it clear that when they were being swamped by these tens of thousands of people, many of them, simply pushed their way on, not because they were American citizens and not because they had any standing to come to United States, but because they got on.”