Secretary of State Antony Blinken is facing lawmakers for the second time in as many days when he testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Tuesday morning, regarding the administration’s bungled withdrawal from Afghanistan that stranded hundreds of US citizens and Afghan allies in the country now controlled by the Taliban.
In testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday, a hearing in which he participated virtually from the State Department, Blinken attempted to defend the disastrous pullout or provide sufficient answers to why the Afghan forces collapsed so quickly — whether the State Department ignored warnings about those forces and whether Americans still in Afghanistan are being mistreated by the jihadist group now in control.
During the hearing, Blinken and many of the Democrats on the panel insisted that former President Donald Trump’s February 2020 peace deal with the Taliban tied the administration’s hands on the drawdown.
Blinken, in his opening statement, said President Biden was left with two choices, “ending the war or escalating it.”
“Had he not followed through on his predecessor’s commitment, attacks on our forces and those of our allies would have resumed and the Taliban’s nationwide assault on Afghanistan’s major cities would have commenced,” Blinken said.
Republican lawmakers, on the other hand, focused their questions for Blinken on the failures that led to the Taliban so rapidly overrunning the country, a situation that led to chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport outside Kabul as thousands of Afghans desperate to escape the extremist group’s rule tried to catch a flight.
Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House panel, called the evacuation efforts “an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.”
“But the president refused to listen to his own generals and the intelligence community. You warned him precisely what would happen when we withdrew,” McCaul told Blinken in his opening remarks.
“This was an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. I never thought in my lifetime that I would see an unconditional surrender to the Taliban.”
As mobs of Afghans gathered around the perimeter of the airport, clogging the gates, an ISIS-K suicide bomber exploded, killing 13 American service members and scores of Afghans.
Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) said she was questioning Blinken on behalf of the families of the fallen, including the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz, one of the 13 who was killed Aug. 26.
“Make no mistake, Mr. Secretary, the Biden administration’s egregiously inept withdrawal has left America and the world a much less safe place 20 years after Sept. 11,” Wagner said, and then asked if he took “any responsibility … for this disastrous withdrawal, or do you still want to call it a success?”
Blinken responded that he is “responsible for the decisions that I make.”