Secretary of State Antony Blinken is testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he is expected to face an intense grilling about the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after the Taliban took control of the country and about the policy and intelligence failures leading up to the tumultuous conclusion of America’s longest war.
Blinken’s virtual appearance before the House panel is his first congressional hearing this week on the topic. On Tuesday he will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
In his opening statement to lawmakers, Blinken defends the timing of the withdrawal and blames the Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover of the country on the Afghan government and the collapse of the country’s national security forces.
“There’s no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining. 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?” Blinken will tell lawmakers, according to a copy of his opening statement obtained by The Hill.
The Monday hearing is expected to provide plenty of fireworks as some Republicans — who have already called on President Biden, Blinken and other administration members to resign — press the country’s top diplomat about the rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces and the mad scramble to evacuate Americans and Afghan allies from Kabul.
Blinken is the first administration official to testify before Congress on the haphazard withdrawal.
He will also blame former President Donald Trump for delaying the approval process for Special Immigrant Visas for Afghan allies and will fault Americans in Afghanistan for failing to abide by the administration’s warnings to leave the country.
“In March, we began urging them to leave the country. In total, between March and August, we sent 19 specific messages with that warning — and with offers of help, including financial assistance to pay for plane tickets,” Blinken will tell the lawmakers.
“Despite this effort, at the time the evacuation began, there were still thousands of Americans in Afghanistan, almost all of whom were evacuated by August 31. Many were dual citizens living in Afghanistan for years, decades, generations. Deciding whether or not to leave the place they know as home is a wrenching decision.”
He will also accuse the Trump administration of slow-walking the SIV process.
“There had not been a single interview of an SIV applicant in Kabul in nine months, going back to March of 2020. The program was basically in a dead stall,” Blinken will say. “Within two weeks of taking office, we restarted the SIV interview process in Kabul.”
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the top Republican on the House panel, has been a vocal critic of the administration’s handling of the pullout and on Sunday laid out the questions he has for Blinken.
“I want to hear from him, why did this go so bad? How did you get it so wrong? Why didn’t he listen to the intelligence community warnings since April and May of this last year telling us, telling me that the Taliban was going to take over, the Afghan army is going to fall, and the embassy would be in trouble?,” McCaul said on Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures.”
“I want to know why he left American citizens behind. Why did the military evacuate before American citizens? Yes, I want to know why our interpreters who put their lives on the line and fought with our special forces, why were they left behind and … are being executed as I speak in front of their families,” he continued.
Blinken will also be grilled about the deaths of 13 American service members outside Hamid Karzai International Airport near Kabul after an ISIS-K terrorist detonated a suicide bomb as mobs of Afghans crowded the streets around the airport in a desperate attempt to get a flight out of the country.
And Republicans will surely seek a reckoning on the Taliban posing in videos with US military equipment, including Black Hawk helicopters and heavy equipment left behind at the Kabul airport.
Democrats, on the other hand, will seek to deflect blame to the previous administration, raising questions about the peace plan and withdrawal timetable that Trump worked out with the Taliban in February 2020.
“My No. 1 question for Secretary Blinken: Can you describe for us now the detailed and well-considered plan prepared by the Trump administration for how we would get out of Afghanistan in an orderly way?” Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) told Axios in an interview.
“Let’s face it, this mission was fraught with peril, because there’s no way to flee without causing a stampede, and there’s no way to have a stampede that’s orderly and meritorious,” he said.
Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, criticized the withdrawal last month, telling NY1, “It could have been done better.”
But he seemed to ease up on his judgment of the administration’s efforts last week.
“Was it a perfect evacuation? Absolutely not. But if you talk about it in its entirety and what the results were, you will have to say it was a successful operation,” Meeks said in an interview last Friday, the Washington Post reported.
He said Blinken will face “difficult questions,” including about the US military’s decision to leave Bagram Air Base in July and how many Americans and Afghans are still in the country.
But Meeks pointed out the narrow scope of his panel.
“This is oversight,” he said. “This is our oversight responsibilities. We’re not investigating, we’re overseeing.”