Facing often-hostile questioning by some Republican lawmakers on Monday, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken vigorously defended his department’s handling of the massive, if incomplete, evacuation from Afghanistan of U.S. citizens, green-card holders and other at-risk Afghans. The top U.S. diplomat gave evidence at the first congressional hearing of the administration about the chaotic ending to America’s longest war, the combat mission in Afghanistan.
” The evacuation was an extraordinary effort –under the most difficult circumstances imaginable –by our diplomats, military, and intelligence professionals,” Blinken told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. This was his first testimony of two days on Capitol Hill. “They worked around the clock to get American citizens, Afghans who helped us, citizens of our allies and partners, and at-risk Afghans on planes, out of the country, and off to the United States or transit locations.”
The department, along with the U.S. military and other agencies, managed to evacuate more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan.
But Congressmen and veterans have criticized the State Department and other government agencies for taking too long to rescue Afghans who were working alongside the U.S. Army, diplomatic missions and others. Such Afghans face potential injury and death at the hands of Afghanistan’s new Taliban government.
Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the ranking Republican on the committee, said the withdrawal was “an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.”
The administration “abandoned Americans behind enemy lines. McCaul stated that McCaul could sum it up in one word: “betrayal.”
Some members are furious that a small number of Americans were not evacuated from Afghanistan prior to its fall to the Taliban. Blinken said that as of last week, roughly 100 U.S. citizens remain who want to leave the country.
The State Department continues to assist U.S. citizens to get out of the country. Officials noted that in the months prior to the Taliban takeover , diplomats urged Americans to flee Afghanistan. Some dual-national U.S. citizens who are holding U.S. passports have chosen to stay in Afghanistan.
Blinken claimed that the Biden administration was unable to draw down troops from Afghanistan due to the controversial 2020 deal with the Taliban for them to withdraw their troops by May 1.
While the talks that led to the agreement did not include the U.S.-backed Afghan government, they were demoralized and provided little in the way for concrete follow-up. Trump’s agreement forced the Afghan government release several thousand Taliban prisoners.
We inherited a date,” Blinken said to the lawmakers. “We didn’t inherit a plan
Some Republican members noted that the Biden administration had willingly cancelled many Trump-era agreements. Blinken stated that this agreement would have directly affected American lives as the Taliban had promised to resume war against U.S forces if they were not met by the deadline.
Both Republicans, Democrats and Independents criticized the withdrawal. A suicide bombing by an Islamic State affiliate at the Kabul airport last month during the rush of the evacuation killed 13 U.S. service members and nearly 200 Afghans. Already, the Taliban has created a “caretaker government” that is entirely male and only includes Taliban veterans. This will restrict rights for women and girls to work and education.
Republicans were especially scathing in the hearing, with several labeling Blinken a liar and calling on him to resign. They appeared eager to place the blame of the last 20 years of the Afghanistan ordeal on the current government.
State Department representatives feel that they are unfairly being held responsible for the chaotic withdrawal. Blinken will attempt to prove this point during the congressional hearings. Blinken is scheduled to appear before a Senate committee Tuesday.
There is no evidence that the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government are more resilient or self-sustaining if they were allowed to stay longer,” Blinken stated. “If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or 10, make a difference?”
State Department officials had expected Blinken to face tough questioning as the first administration figure to face such interrogation by lawmakers.
Blinken, who toured U.S. refugee-rescue operations in Doha, Qatar, and Ramstein Air Base in Germany last week, remained steadfast in praising the legions of U.S. military and civilian officials who joined the evacuation effort and the processing of thousands of Afghans who are coming to the U.S.
“As we’ve done throughout our history, Americans are now welcoming families from Afghanistan into our communities and helping them resettle as they start their new lives,” Blinken said. “That’s something to be proud of too.”
Republicans lawmakers ping-ponged between recrimination of the administration for not airlifting more Afghan allies out of the country and concern that those Afghans arriving in the U.S. have not been adequately vetted, suggesting some could be terrorists.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle asked one question, which no one seemed to consider as being satisfactorily answered. After two decades of support by the United States and NATO allies, the Afghan army and government collapsed so quickly when faced with a Taliban offensive.
“For my friends who presume a clean solution for the withdrawal existed, I would welcome hearing what exactly a smooth withdrawal from a messy chaotic 20-year war looks like,” said Rep. Gregory Meeks, the committee’s Democratic chairman from New York.
Meeks asked his colleagues to refrain from politicizing what he described as a somber assessment. He also called out many Republicans who were attacking Blinken.
” They are expressing their discontent with criticism, but failing to offer viable alternatives. He said that once again we see domestic politics being infused into foreign policy.
“Could things be done differently?” Meeks inquired. “Absolutely.” However, neither Meeks nor the other members of the committee offered any alternative plan.
” The Trump administration failed to set up, and the Biden Administration failed to execute,” stated Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R.Ill.), a veteran of the Air Force who has served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Kinzinger often stray from the traditional GOP line.
Blinken noted that in addition to its dire political outlook, Afghanistan faces a humanitarian disaster fueled by war, drought and potential famine.
“We need to do everything we can to make sure the people of Afghanistan don’t suffer any more than is already the case.”