Blinken pushes back against Republican criticism at Afghanistan hearing

Antony Blink, the US secretary of state, has pushed back against heavy Republican criticism of the handling of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, saying the Biden administration inherited a deal with the Taliban to end the war, but no plan for carrying it out.

Republicans at the House foreign affairs committee lambasted Blinken during a sometimes contentious hearing on Monday, criticising him for the handling of the withdrawal and subsequent evacuation.

Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the committee, gesê: “Mr Secretary, the American people don’t like to lose, especially not to the terrorists, but that is exactly what has happened. This has emboldened the Taliban and our adversaries.

“The America I know keeps its promises. The most important promise in our military is no man left behind, no one left behind. But you broke this promise,” McCaul added.

Blinken sought to blunt complaints from angry GOP lawmakers about the administration’s response to the quick collapse of the Afghan government and, more specifically, the state department’s actions to evacuate Americans and others.

“We made the right decision in ending America’s longest-running war,” said Blinken, who will also testify on Tuesday before the Senate foreign relations committee.

The state department has come under heavy criticism from both sides for not doing enough and not acting quickly enough to get American citizens, legal residents and at-risk Afghans out of the country after the Taliban took control of Kabul on 15 Augustus. Some seeking to leave remain stranded there, although Blinken could not provide an exact number. He said roughly 100 US citizens remain along with about “several thousand” green card holders.

The chairman of the committee, New York congressman Gregory Meeks, urged his colleagues to keep politics out of their criticism. But he acknowledged that there had been problems. “Could things have been done differently? Absolutely," hy het gesê.

Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who has been ostracized by many in the GOP for his criticism of Donald Trump, placed blame for the situation on both the former president and Joe Biden. “The Trump administration failed in the setup and the Biden administration failed in the execution,” Kinzinger said.

Blinken tried to calmly deflect allegations of unpreparedness by noting that the Biden administration had inherited a US-Taliban peace deal from its predecessor, along with a languishing program to grant visas to Afghans who had worked for the US government.

The secretary of state, who had publicly predicted in June that a complete Taliban takeover would not happen “from a Friday to a Monday”, also tried to pre-empt criticism of the prediction by noting that no one in the US government expected the Afghan government to fall as quickly as it did.

“Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while US forces remained,” Blinken said in prepared remarks released ahead of his appearance. He also defended the evacuation effort, saying it succeeded despite near insurmountable odds.

But Republicans in particular have been demanding answers as to why American citizens were left behind in the chaotic days and weeks before the military completed its withdrawal on 30 Augustus. The Republican National Committee released a statement earlier Monday with the banner headline “Fire Blinken”.

Some lawmakers at the hearing appeared to be spoiling for a fight with the generally unflappable secretary, including Representative Bryan Mast of Florida who accused him of lying when he denied that intelligence had been manipulated to support Biden’s desire to withdraw US troops. “I do not believe a word you have said,” he told Blinken.

In a rare show of temper, Blinken replied: “Simply put, what you said congressman, is dead wrong.”

Blinken is very close to Biden and his job as America’s top diplomat is almost certainly safe, but criticism of the Afghanistan withdrawal has not been limited to Republicans.

Numerous 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 US government over the past 20 jare.

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