Washington (Trends Wide) — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation effort that marked the end of America’s longest war in the face of criticism from lawmakers.
The senior diplomat, the first member of the administration to be publicly accountable for what happened in Afghanistan before Congress, spoke before a virtual audience of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and defended the decision to leave the country while the Republicans they denounced the withdrawal as a “debacle” and a “betrayal.”
Blinken suggested that prolonging the U.S. presence would not have made much of a difference, noting that the Trump administration left the incoming administration with little to work on other than a May deadline to withdraw.
“We inherited a term,” Blinken said. “We don’t inherit a plan.”
“An extraordinary effort”
In his opening testimony, the senior US diplomat said that “there is no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan government or security forces more resilient or self-sufficient.” In line with the arguments that President Joe Biden has repeatedly and publicly made, Blinken posed a question to lawmakers: “If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment and training weren’t enough, why what other year, or five, or ten, would make a difference? “
Blinken told lawmakers in a prepared speech that the administration planned and exercised a series of contingencies, working with allies to execute the largest airlift in US military history, “an extraordinary effort” that drove the US out of the country. “almost all” American and Afghan citizens who wanted to leave Afghanistan.
“We planned and carried out a wide range of contingencies. Thanks to that planning, we were able to withdraw our embassy and transfer the remaining personnel to the airport in 48 hours. And the military, placed on alert by the president, were able to secure the airport and begin the evacuation in 72 hours, “Blinken said in his opening statement, noting that no one expected the collapse of the country to occur as quickly as it did.
Blinken laid out the situation the administration inherited: the Taliban were in their strongest military position since the attacks of September 11, 2001. The Trump administration had negotiated directly with the Taliban, released 5,000 of its imprisoned members, including seniors. military commanders, and had pledged to withdraw before May, while reducing the US military presence to its lowest level since September 2001. In addition, Blinken said, the process of granting visas to Afghans that they were working with US troops and diplomats “I was basically at a standstill.”
“As a result, upon taking office, President Biden was immediately faced with the choice of ending the war or escalating it,” Blinken said. “After 20 years, 2,641 American lives lost, 20,000 wounded and $ 2 trillion invested, it was time to end America’s longest war.”
Legislators demanded answers and condemned the administration’s actions. The commission’s top Republican, Congressman Michael McCaul of Texas, called the withdrawal and the end of the war “an inexcusable disaster of epic proportions,” a “debacle” and “a betrayal.”
He criticized the Biden administration for “our unconditional surrender to the Taliban,” the chaotic nature of the evacuation effort, and the Americans being left behind, urging Blinken to work with private groups to carry out a “digital Dunkirk” effort. to get Americans, legal permanent residents and vulnerable Afghans out of the country.
The committee’s Democratic chairman, Rep. Gregory Meeks of New York, warned against criticism motivated by political partisanship. “It seems to me that many of those who criticize the administration’s evacuation efforts are really upset that the president kept his promise to end America’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan,” Meeks said.
“They mask their discontent with criticism, but they offer no viable alternatives. Once again, we are seeing domestic politics injected into foreign policy.”
Americans still in Afghanistan
But he also raised concerns about Americans still trapped in Afghanistan. “I look forward to hearing from the Secretary how the State Department plans to complete the evacuation of the 100 or 200 Americans who remain in Afghanistan and who want to return home, as well as to evacuate the Afghans who have worked alongside us for the past 20 years. Meeks said.
Like administration officials, lawmakers were caught off guard when the Taliban swiftly defeated Afghan troops, leaving American citizens, legal permanent citizens, and Afghans who worked with American troops and diplomats fighting for leaving the country during the hasty evacuation effort, or leaving them behind. Many lawmakers were personally implicated when they rushed to help their constituents escape Kabul.
Just before Blinken appeared on Capitol Hill, the Biden administration announced Monday that it will allocate about $ 64 million in new humanitarian aid to Afghans, to provide them with food, health care, medical supplies and other aid.
Monday’s hearing is the first of two appearances Blinken will make before Congress this week to testify on Afghanistan.
– Trends Wide’s Ellie Kaufman and Sonnet Swire contributed to this report.