Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, rebuffed harsh criticism from Republicans over the handling of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying the Biden administration inherited a deal with the Taliban to end the war, but no plan to carry it out.
Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee blasted Blinken in a sometimes controversial hearing on Monday, criticizing him for handling the withdrawal and subsequent evacuation.
Michael McCaul, the leading Republican on the committee, said, “Mr. Secretary, the American people don’t like to lose, especially not to terrorists, but that’s exactly what happened. It emboldened the Taliban and our adversaries.
“The America I know keeps its promises. The most important promise in our army is that no man is left behind, no one is left behind. But you broke that promise, ”added McCaul.
Blinken has sought to blunt complaints from angry GOP lawmakers about the administration’s response to the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and, more specifically, the State Department’s actions to evacuate Americans and others.
“We made the right decision in ending America’s longest war,” said Blinken, who will also testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
The State Department has come under heavy criticism from both sides for not doing enough and not acting quickly enough to get US citizens, legal residents and at-risk Afghans out of the country after the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15. Some seeking to leave remain stranded there, although Blinken could not provide an exact number. He said there were around 100 US citizens left as well as around “several thousand” green card holders.
Committee chairman New York Congressman Gregory Meeks urged colleagues to keep politics out of their critics. But he admitted that there had been problems. “Could things have been done differently? Absolutely, ”he said.
Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who has been ostracized by many GOP members for his criticism of Donald Trump, blamed the situation on the former president and Joe Biden. “The Trump administration failed in the setup and the Biden administration failed in the execution,” Kinzinger said.
Blinken calmly attempted to deflect allegations of unpreparedness by noting that the Biden administration had inherited a US-Taliban peace deal from its predecessor, as well as a languid program to grant visas to Afghans who had worked for the US government.
The secretary of state, who publicly predicted in June that a full Taliban takeover would not happen “from Friday to Monday,” also tried to anticipate criticism of the prediction by noting that no one in the US government expected government to fall as fast as it did.
“Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse as long as US forces remained,” Blinken said in prepared remarks released ahead of his appearance. He also defended the evacuation effort, saying it was successful despite almost insurmountable odds.
But Republicans in particular have asked for answers as to why American citizens were left behind in the chaotic days and weeks before the military completed its withdrawal on August 30. The Republican National Committee released a statement earlier Monday with the headline “Fire Blinken”.
Some lawmakers at the hearing appeared to be spoiling a scuffle with the generally unperturbed secretary, including Rep. Bryan Mast of Florida who accused him of lying when he denied that the information had been manipulated to support Biden’s desire to withdraw American troops. “I don’t believe a word of what you said,” he told Blinken.
In a rare display of temper, Blinken replied, “Put simply, what you said, Congressman, is completely wrong.”
Blinken is very close to Biden and his job as America’s top diplomat is almost certainly secure, but criticism of the withdrawal from Afghanistan is not confined to Republicans.
Many Democrats have also questioned the policy and expressed concern about stranded Americans, green card holders and Afghans who could face retaliation from the Taliban because of their work or ties to the US government in the United States. over the past 20 years.