US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back on Monday against harsh Republican criticism of the handling of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying that the Biden administration inherited an agreement with the Taliban to end the war, but no plan to carry it out.
In a sometimes controversial hearing Monday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken tried to stem complaints from angry Republican lawmakers about the administration’s response to the Afghan government’s rapid collapse and, more specifically, the State Department’s measures to evacuate Americans and others.
Blinken echoed the White House’s talking points and blamed the Trump administration for the situation that President Joe Biden inherited in Afghanistan.
“We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan,” he said, claiming that the administration had done the right thing to end 20 years of war.
“We made the right decision to end America’s longest war,” said Blinken, who will testify on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Republicans saved the withdrawal as “a disaster” and “a disgrace.” And while some Democrats allowed the operation to be handled better, many used their questions to criticize former President Donald Trump.
Blinken said the Biden administration did not consider renegotiating the withdrawal agreement that the Trump administration reached with the Taliban because of threats from the group to resume killing Americans.
“There is no evidence that a longer stay would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government more resilient or self-sustaining,” Blinken said.
The Foreign Ministry has been harshly criticized by both sides for not doing enough and not acting fast enough to get US citizens, residents and at-risk Afghans out of the country after the Taliban took control of Kabul on 15 August. to leave there, even if Blinken could not give an exact number. He said about 100 U.S. citizens remain, along with about “several thousand” green card holders.
Withdrawals are called “betrayal”
“This was an unparalleled disaster of epic proportions,” says Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the highest-ranking Republican on the committee. He said the abrupt withdrawal, along with leaving some Americans and Afghans behind, had “encouraged the Taliban” and other American opponents. “I can sum it up in one word: betrayal.”
His Republican colleagues Steve Chabot of Ohio and Lee Zeldin of New York were even more blunt. “This is a shame,” Chabot said. “This was deadly flawed and poorly executed,” says Zeldin. “I think you, sir, should resign. That would be leadership.”
Chairman of the Committee, New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, urged his colleagues to keep politics away from their criticism. But he acknowledged that there had been problems. “Could things have been done differently? Absolutely.”
Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger from Illinois, who has been ostracized by many in the party for his criticism of Trump, blamed the situation on both Trump and Biden. “The Trump administration failed in its approach and the Biden administration failed to execute,” he said.
During the first of two days of congressional testimony, Blinken calmly tried to divert allegations of inadequacy by noting that the Biden administration has inherited a US-Taliban peace deal from the former Trump administration, along with a declining program to grant visas to Afghans who had worked for the US government.
Blinken, who had publicly predicted in June that a full takeover of the Taliban would not take place “from Friday to Monday”, also tried to anticipate criticism of the prediction, noting that no one in the US government expected the Afghan government to fall as fast as it did.
“Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while US forces remained,” Blinken said in prepared comments released ahead of his appearance. He also defended the evacuation work and said that it was successful despite almost insurmountable odds.
“The evacuation was an extraordinary effort – under the most difficult conditions imaginable – by our diplomats, military and intelligence personnel,” he said. “In the end, we carried out one of the largest aircraft lifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety.”
Afghanistan risks running out of food
Afghanistan risks running out of food, as it faces a terrible drought in addition to political upheavals.
“We must do everything we can to ensure that the people of Afghanistan are not affected more than is already the case,” Blinken said.
It’s a little difficult to take and listen to Republican colleagues who strongly supported Trump’s decision to now attack President Biden for decisions they previously supported.– Democratic sen. Chris Van Hollen
He said he would appoint a senior Foreign Ministry official to focus solely on efforts to support women, girls and minorities in Afghanistan.
Blinken also promised that the United States will continue to support humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.
“In line with sanctions, this support will not flow through the government, but rather through independent organizations as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and UN agencies, he says in prepared comments.
But Republicans in particular have demanded answers as to why American citizens were left behind in the chaotic days and weeks before the military ended its withdrawal on August 30.
Committee Democrat Sen. Chris Van Hollen noted that Trump had pushed to get out of Afghanistan even faster and criticized Biden for staying as long as he did.
“It’s a little difficult to take and listen to Republican colleagues who strongly supported Trump’s decision to now attack President Biden for decisions they previously supported,” he said in a conversation in which he discussed a recent trip to Europe and the Middle East.
Look | ‘Canadian Dave’ helped 100 Afghans get to safety:
A special forces soldier with the Canadian Armed Forces, Dave Lavery, worked with a team of volunteers to bring at least 100 Afghans to safety through the chaos at Kabul airport. 2:03
In a preview of issues, the Republican National Committee released a statement earlier Monday with the banner headline “Fire Blinken,” demanding that he be held accountable for what it described as a series of failures.
“Blink’s disastrous handling of Afghanistan and weak leadership endanger American lives, including the lives of Americans still trapped in Afghanistan,” the committee said.
Blinken is very close to Biden, and his job as America’s top diplomat is almost certain, but criticism of the administration’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal has not been limited to Republicans.
Many Democrats have also questioned the policy, expressing concern over stranded Americans, green card holders and Afghans who may face retaliation from the Taliban for their work or ties to the US government over the past 20 years.
State Department officials have acknowledged that the congressional negotiations may be controversial and possibly ugly, but many are still convinced that the US military and other officials did the best they could in extremely trying circumstances – including the evacuation of the US embassy in Kabul and the crushing of thousands of desperate people at Kabul airport trying to leave the country.