Bill to help Americans returning from Afghanistan becomes law; Congress jostles over US withdrawal

People wait to board a US Air Force C-17 evacuation plane at Kabul airport on Aug 25, 2021.
People wait to board a US Air Force C-17 evacuation plane at Kabul airport on Aug 25, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - The US Senate passed legislation on Tuesday (Aug 31) to provide aid for American civilians returning from Afghanistan, sending the Bill to the White House where President Joe Biden signed it into law, as congressional Republicans criticised the president over the chaotic withdrawal from Kabul.

The "Emergency Repatriation Assistance for Returning Americans Act" provides US$10 million (S$13 million) in emergency funds per year this year and next, to help returning Americans with basic necessities as they adjust to life back home. The measure had already passed the US House of Representatives.

Unusually, Vice-President Kamala Harris presided over the Senate session - a "pro forma" event held while lawmakers are out of Washington. The measure passed by unanimous consent, with no objections in the nearly empty Senate chamber.

US officials announced on Monday that the last American troops had left Kabul, marking the end of a conflict that left the Taliban Islamist group stronger than it was in 2001.

More than 123,000 people, including thousands of US citizens in Afghanistan as the Taliban took control, were evacuated from Kabul in a massive but chaotic airlift by the United States and allies over the past two weeks.

Members of Congress from both parties have pledged to investigate what went wrong in Afghanistan. That includes some of Biden's fellow Democrats who said they supported the decision to end the war, but called for better efforts to evacuate the last Americans - and Afghans who worked with US forces.

Republicans sharply criticised Biden in news conferences at the US Capitol on Tuesday, some calling for the resignations of top administration officials.

Despite the House being in recess, about 30 Republicans held a moment of silence during a "pro forma" session on Tuesday to honour the 13 troops killed in Kabul last week and make a failed bid to pass legislation requiring the administration to submit a report on how many Americans remain in Afghanistan.