House Republicans warn prisoners freed by Taliban 'pose serious concern' to US security

Taliban leader freed by Obama from Guantanamo Bay return to Afghanistan

Jennifer Griffin, Fox News national security correspondent, discusses the latest on released Guantanamo Bay detainees on ‘Special Report.’

EXCLUSIVE: The top Republicans on the House Homeland Security, Foreign Affairs and Armed Services committees are demanding the White House provide critical information related to the thousands of detainees released from Afghan prisons by the Taliban amid their takeover of Afghanistan, warning that the freed prisoners “pose serious concern to the security of the United States.” 

In a letter to White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, exclusively obtained by Fox News, House Homeland Security Ranking Member John Katko, R-N.Y.; House Homeland Security Ranking Member Michael McCaul, R-Texas; and House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., demanded a response regarding the release of the thousands of prisoners, including from the Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul.

“Amidst the litany of security, humanitarian, and diplomatic crises emerging from the Biden-Harris Administration’s chaotic withdrawal process in Afghanistan, we write concerning widespread media reporting that the Taliban has released thousands of prisoners from detention facilities, including the Pul-e-Charkhi prison in Kabul and at Bagram Air Base,” they wrote. 

“Prisoners reported to have been held in these detention facilities include thousands of Taliban fighters, senior Al Qaeda operatives, Islamic State Afghanistan (ISKP) members, and former Guantanamo Bay detainees–all of whom pose serious concern to the security of the United States,” they continued. 

Katko, McCaul and Rogers warned that the “rapidly deteriorating situation” in Afghanistan “suggests that the region may once again return to being a terrorist safe haven, serving to train foreign fighters while allowing terrorist groups to plot, direct, and inspire attacks against the United States and the American people.”

“The homeland security challenges are further exasperated by the ongoing crisis along the southern border, where the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed encounters of Known or Suspected Terrorists (KSTs) and individuals from countries across the globe,” Katko, McCaul and Rogers warned. 

The Republicans noted that U.S. Customs and Border Protection is playing a “critical role” in “identifying and mitigating terrorist travel,” but warned that the agency is “currently strapped for resources as it manages the fallout from the administration’s disastrous border policies.”

The Republicans went on to demand answers as to whether the U.S. government has “access to census information related to prisoners formerly held at detention facilities in Afghanistan where high-risk detainees were held.” 

Republicans also asked Sullivan whether the government was aware of any recently released individuals held at Afghan detention facilities who were “previously involved in terrorist plotting against the United States.” 

“If so, please describe who, how many, and in what terrorist activities they engaged,” they wrote, also asking that the White House outline “what options exist” to prevent released prisoners with terror affiliations from contributing to the “build up” of al Qaeda or other terror groups in Afghanistan traveling abroad to engage in acts of terrorism. 

Katko, McCaul and Rogers also questioned whether the Biden administration has taken any steps to “match or add” individuals from the Afghan detention facilities to the Terror Screening Database to “ensure adequate vetting” should those released prisoners attempt to travel internationally. The Republicans also demanded answers as to what immigration agencies are currently doing to monitor the travel of watchlisted individuals “seeking to exploit vulnerabilities along the southwest border.” 

“As the American people prepare to mark the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, we are soberly reminded of the dangers posed to the homeland by threats borne out of terror safe havens, like Afghanistan,” Katko, McCaul and Rogers wrote. 

The letter to Sullivan comes after he admitted to reporters on Tuesday that the worsening security crisis in Afghanistan is presenting “broader challenges posed by the new realities in Afghanistan.” 

“We will remain persistently vigilant against the terrorism threat in Afghanistan,” Sullivan said, adding that the U.S. “has proven in other places that we can suppress terrorism without a permanent military presence on the ground.” 

“We are going to have to deal with the potential threat of terrorism from Afghanistan going forward, just as we have to deal with potential threat of terrorism in dozens of countries, in multiple continents around the world,” Sullivan said, pointing to the terrorist threats from Yemen, Somalia, Syria, “across the Islamic Maghreb,” as well as al Qaeda and ISIS-K.

Sullivan said the U.S. is prepared to do so by using a “wide variety of tools, intelligence capabilities, defense capabilities, and yes, in some cases, support we can provide to local partners to help them deal with the challenge.” 

Sullivan, though, said the U.S. has “been successful to date in suppressing the terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland in those countries, without sustaining a permanent military presence, or fighting a war.” 

“That is what we intend to do with respect to Afghanistan as well,” he said. 

“So the question is not whether we are clear-eyed about the terrorist challenge from Afghanistan. It is about whether the terrorist challenge in 2021 is fundamentally different from the terrorist challenge in 2001,” Sullivan continued. 

“And we believe it is fundamentally different, and we need to be postured effectively to deal with the terrorism challenges we find today, as opposed to 20 years ago,” he added. 

However, during an exclusive interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Katko warned that the “porous” southern border puts the U.S. homeland security at greater risk than even before 9/11. 

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