Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday defended the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan before a hostile parliamentary committee, blaming ex-President Donald Trump largely for the situation.
“Bitter disaster”, “betrayal”, “unconditional surrender” to the Taliban: strongly criticized by elected Republican officials, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended, Monday, September 13, the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan implemented by Joe Biden in front of a very uplifted Congress.
With more firmness than he had done so far, the very affable diplomat challenged the accusations of unpreparedness formulated even within his Democratic camp. And counterattacked by making ex-President Donald Trump largely responsible for the situation.
“The Taliban were stronger militarily than ever”
“We inherited a deadline, we did not inherit a plan,” he said during a hearing in the House of Representatives.
He felt that when President Biden entered the White House in early 2021, he had no choice but to “end the war or escalate”: “The Taliban were stronger militarily than ever” since the attacks of September 11, 2001 which had triggered the Western intervention, while the American army had never had so few men on Afghan soil.
In question, the agreement concluded by the Trump administration with the Taliban, setting in stone the total withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan – and allowing the passage of the release of 5,000 insurgents.
Long determined to end the longest war in American history, the Democratic president confirmed this total withdrawal initiated by his Republican predecessor. But without this agreement, he would not have “not necessarily done according to this schedule” or “in this way”, assured Antony Blinken.
If the disengagement from Afghanistan was defended by a large part of the American political class, its implementation is criticized from all sides.
Because the departure turned into a disaster scenario: the Taliban, driven out 20 years ago, regained power even before the last American soldier left Kabul.
Antony Blinken stung to the quick
In haste, the United States had to mount a gigantic airlift to evacuate foreigners and Afghans susceptible to reprisals from the country’s new Islamist masters. And 13 American soldiers were killed in a jihadist attack targeting this operation.
“The president refused to listen to his own generals and intelligence officials, who had warned him precisely what would happen during our withdrawal,” said Republican elected representative Michael McCaul, denouncing a “bitter disaster” and an “unconditional surrender to the Taliban”. He accused the Biden-Blinken duo of having “broken the promise” not to abandon any American there.
“You blame everyone for this disaster except yourself and the Taliban,” quipped his colleague Dan Meuser.
While most Democrats had muted criticism since August, Republicans have stepped up the attacks for more than five hours, some going so far as to demand the resignation of the Secretary of State.
“You have manipulated the information,” chanted Brian Mast on several occasions, brandishing the portraits of soldiers killed at the end of August in Kabul.
“What you said is just plain wrong,” replied Antony Blinken, who briefly lost his usual composure when Congressman Ronny Jackson accused him of exploiting the deaths of those Marines.
“I am accountable”, he also replied to an elected official who accused him of “treason”. “We did what was necessary,” he hammered, visibly stung.
“We have prepared for a large number of scenarios”
Basically, the head of American diplomacy explained that “even the most pessimistic analyzes did not foresee the collapse of government forces in Kabul before the withdrawal of American forces”. But “there is no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces more resilient or self-sufficient.”
“However, he pleaded, we have prepared for a large number of scenarios”, which he said allowed to evacuate 124,000 people.
This is the weak point of Antony Blinken, accused of not having done enough, in the months before the deadline of August 31, to evacuate American nationals and Afghans who worked for the United States.
Here too, the minister said he had relaunched the allocation of special visas to interpreters and other Afghan auxiliaries in Washington, left “at a standstill” by the Trump administration. But this very bureaucratic process remained extremely sluggish until the final bailout.