By MATTHEW LEE, AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday fended off harsh Republicans’ handling of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying the Biden administration had inherited a deal with the Taliban to end the war, but no plan to carry it out.
In a sometimes controversial hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday, Blinken sought to blunt complaints from angry GOP lawmakers about the administration’s response to the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and, more specifically , the actions of the State Department to evacuate Americans and others.
Blinken echoed the White House talking points blaming the Trump administration for the situation President Joe Biden inherited in Afghanistan. “We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan,” he said, saying the administration had done the right thing in ending 20 years of war.
“We made the right decision in ending America’s longest war,” said Blinken, who will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.
Republicans called the withdrawal process “disaster” and “dishonor”. And while some Democrats have admitted the operation could have been handled better, many have used their questions to rack up criticism of former President Donald Trump.
The State Department has come under heavy criticism from both sides for not doing enough and not acting quickly enough to get US citizens, legal residents and at-risk Afghans out of the country after the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15. to let get stuck there, although Blinken couldn’t provide an exact number. He said there were around 100 US citizens left as well as around “several thousand” green card holders.
“It was a total disaster of epic proportions,” said Representative Michael McCaul of Texas, the committee’s top Republican. He said the brutal withdrawal and leaving Americans and Afghans behind had “emboldened the Taliban” and other American adversaries. “I can sum it up in one word: betrayal. “
His GOP colleagues Steve Chabot of Ohio and Lee Zeldin of New York were even more blunt. “It’s a shame,” said Chabot. “It was fatally flawed and poorly executed,” Zeldin said. “I believe you, sir, should resign. It would be leadership. “
Committee chairman, New York Representative Gregory Meeks, urged his colleagues to keep politics out of their criticism. But he admitted that there had been problems. “Could things have been done differently? Absolutely, ”he said.
Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger, who has been ostracized by many GOP members for his criticism of Trump, blamed the situation on Trump and Biden. “The Trump administration failed in the setup and the Biden administration failed in the execution,” Kinzinger said.
Blinken calmly attempted to deflect allegations of unpreparedness by noting that the Biden administration had inherited a US-Taliban peace deal from its predecessor, as well as a languid program to grant visas to Afghans who had worked for the US government.
Blinken, who publicly predicted in June that a full Taliban takeover would not happen “from Friday to Monday,” also tried to warn critics of the prediction by noting that no one in the US government never expected the Afghan government to fall so quickly. like he did.
“Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse as long as US forces remained,” Blinken said in prepared remarks released ahead of his appearance. He also defended the evacuation effort, saying it was successful despite almost insurmountable odds.
“The evacuation was an extraordinary effort – under the most difficult conditions imaginable – of our diplomats, military and intelligence professionals,” he said. “In the end, we completed one of the largest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety.”
But Republicans, in particular, have demanded answers as to why American citizens were left behind in the chaotic days and weeks before the military completed its withdrawal on August 30.
In a snapshot of GOP issues, the Republican National Committee released a statement earlier Monday with the headline “Fire Blinken,” demanding it be held accountable for what it described as a litany of failures.
At the end of the five-hour hearing, the GOP committee doubled down on its request.
“Today’s hearing makes Blinken’s failures and lies very clear,” said RNC President Ronna McDaniel. “Biden has no choice but to fire Blinken, hold him accountable, and take responsibility for the disaster he created.”
Some Republicans appeared to have spoiled a fight with the generally unperturbed Blinken. Florida Representative Bryan Mast accused Blinken of lying when he denied that the intelligence had been manipulated to support Biden’s desire to withdraw US troops. “I don’t believe a word of what you said,” he told Blinken.
In a rare display of temper, Blinken replied, “Put simply, what you said, Congressman, is completely wrong.”
Blinken is very close to Biden and his job as America’s top diplomat is almost certainly secure, but criticism of the administration’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan is not confined to Republicans.
Many Democrats have also questioned the policy and expressed concern about stranded Americans, green card holders and Afghans who could face retaliation from the Taliban because of their work or ties to the government. American over the past 20 years.
State Department officials have acknowledged that the Congressional hearings could be controversial and perhaps ugly, but many remain convinced that the U.S. military and other officials did their best under extremely difficult circumstances, including the evacuation of the American embassy in Kabul and the crushing of thousands of people. desperate people at Kabul airport trying to leave the country.
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