Blinken defends US withdrawal from Afghanistan in heated hearing

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken dismissed criticism of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in a controversial congressional hearing, as irate lawmakers accused the White House of presiding over a historic disaster.

In five hours of often irritable exchanges with lawmakers, Blinken defended President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from Afghanistan and rejected allegations that the State Department should have done more to help at-risk Americans and Afghans evacuate. , blaming the previous administration. for lacking a plan.

He repeatedly noted that former Republican President Donald Trump had negotiated the withdrawal deal with the Taliban and defended the Biden administration’s failure to renegotiate the deal, insisting that the hardline Islamist group’s threats to resume killing Americans they were a security threat.

“There is no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government more resilient or self-reliant,” Blinken said.

“We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan,” Blinken said, referring to the Trump administration’s agreement to withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan by May 1.

Members of Congress, Biden Democrats and opposition Republicans, have vowed to investigate since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan last month after rapid advancement.

Blinken appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday and is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the first official in the Biden administration to publicly testify before lawmakers since taking office. of the militant Islamist group.

Blinken, in his testimony before Congress, refers to the Taliban as the “de facto” government of Afghanistan.

– Michael Kugelman (@MichaelKugelman) September 13, 2021

‘Absolute disaster of epic proportions’

Republican lawmakers have described the pullout as chaotic and accused the president of abandoning Americans to the fate of the Taliban.

“This was an absolute disaster of epic proportions,” said Rep. Mike McCaul, the committee’s top Republican.

“I never thought in my life that I would see an unconditional surrender to the Taliban,” he added.

Accusing the administration of “treason” by Afghan allies, McCaul pointed out that the Taliban’s interim government included figures such as Sirajuddin Haqqani, whose arrest Washington is seeking on terrorism charges.

“We are now at the mercy of the Taliban’s reign of terror,” McCaul said, warning of a “dark veil of sharia law” as the Taliban reinstate their draconian treatment of women.

‘You can’t blame the Trump administration’

Republicans noted that last year’s agreement with the Taliban, signed in the presence of Blinken’s predecessor, Mike Pompeo, had set conditions for the withdrawal.

“The Trump administration cannot be blamed for its failure,” said Rep. Greg Steube.

“His administration in the White House was seeing in real time what was happening in Afghanistan and did absolutely nothing to stop it,” he said.

Blinken, however, suggested that the Taliban violated the agreement through their “relentless march,” even as the Trump administration pressured the former Afghan government to release battle-hardened militants.

Blinken said the new administration’s planning made it possible to close the embassy in 48 hours, secure the airport and begin evacuations in 72 hours.

The United States and its allies eventually evacuated 124,000 people from Afghanistan, one of the largest airlifts in history.

The administration says there are only about 100 US citizens left and all have been repeatedly contacted by US diplomats, with some leaving after the withdrawal in line with promises from the Taliban.

Blinken said there was “no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government more resilient or self-sufficient.”

“If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment and training weren’t enough, why another year, another five, another 10?”

Representative Gregory Meeks, the Democrat who led the committee, accused Republicans of keeping silent when Trump and Pompeo pursued the same policies in Afghanistan.

“Disengaging from Afghanistan is never going to be easy,” Meeks said.

“I would like to hear what exactly a smooth withdrawal from a messy and chaotic 20-year war looks like,” he said. “I don’t think one exists.”

( Jowhar with AFP and REUTERS)