‘We Don’t Need to Hear Lies’: Blinken Excoriated By Lawmakers Over Biden’s Botched Afghan Withdrawal
Amid broad bipartisan criticism of the Joe Biden administration’s handling of the situation in Afghanistan lawmakers this week are holding their first public hearings into the haphazard pullout and evacuation missions since US military forces departed from the South Asian country late last month.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken was excoriated over the bungled US withdrawal
from Afghanistan at Monday’s congressional hearing, with a Republican lawmaker erupting that Congress does not "need to hear lies".
Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., slammed the administration's botched handling of the pullout, heatedly saying he didn’t "believe a word" the secretary was saying.
Blinken, the first Biden administration official to testify publicly to lawmakers since the US departure from Afghanistan, appeared before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee to defend President Joe Biden's abrupt decision to pull out US troops from the war-ravaged country. The move had allowed the Taliban* Islamist group
to swiftly reclaim control, toppling the Western-backed Kabul government.
Congressman Brian Mast, who lost both legs while serving in Afghanistan, accused Blinken of lying about President Joe Biden's leaked call with former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, and wondered if he had “manipulated intelligence”.
According to a leaked transcript
of the July 23 call, reported by Reuters, Biden told former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani:
“I need not tell you the perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things aren’t going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban… And there’s a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture.”
The call came as the Afghan government forces collapsed in the face of Taliban advances, resulting in the seizure of Kabul by the rebels.
“What the congressman said is wrong, period,” Blinken said, responding to Mast’s words.
Antony Blinken attempted to defend President Biden’s decision to abruptly pull out troops from Afghanistan, saying, "We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan," during his hearing in front of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "There's no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining," Blinken said.
“If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or ten, make a difference?" he asked.
The Secretary of State once again attempted to shift the blame for the subsequent developments in Afghanistan, such as the Kabul terrorist attack that claimed 13 US lives, and the botched evacuation that left Americans and vulnerable Afghan allies trying to escape the country to an uncertain fate, onto the previous administration of Donald Trump
Trump’s administration had negotiated a settlement with Taliban in February 2020 in Doha, Qatar. The peace deal called for the US to bring down its forces to 8,600 from 13,000 over a span of three to four months, with the remaining forces withdrawing in 14 months, or by May 1st. The Taliban were expected to commit to preventing terrorism, including undertaking obligations to renounce al-Qaida* and prevent that group or others from using Afghan soil to plot attacks on the US or its allies.
According to Blinken, Biden's administration could not renegotiate Trump’s deal with the Taliban because of threats from the group to resume killing Americans. Blinken again noted that no one in the US government expected the Afghan government to collapse as quickly as it did.
‘At the Mercy of the Taliban’
A torrent of harsh criticism has accompanied the botched US and NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, which was slammed at the hearing as a “disgrace.”
“This was an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the committee.
According to him, the abrupt withdrawal had “emboldened the Taliban” and other US adversaries.
"The American people don't like to lose, especially not to the terrorists. But this is exactly what has happened," said Michael McCaul, who argued that the "unconditional surrender to the Taliban" would not have happened if Biden had heeded the advice of military advisers.
"We are now at the mercy of the Taliban's reign of terror," McCaul said.
“I can summarise this in one word: betrayal,” said McCaul, who also questioned why assets like the Bagram Air Base were not maintained.
Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, said the decision to pull out of Bagram Air Base on July 1, ahead of the civilian evacuation resulted in the deadly suicide attack
that killed 13 US troops.
“Your bizarre abandoning of Bagram Airfield led directly to 13 Marines murdered at Kabul… You should resign,” said Wilson.
Other GOP members, Reps. Lee Zeldin and Tim Burchett, also echoed calls for Blinken's resignation.
Lawmakers from both sides asked Blinken for an estimate of the numbers of Americans and vulnerable Afghan allies who still wish to leave the country.
"As of last week, there were about 100 American citizens in Afghanistan who told us they wish to leave the country," said Blinken, along with about “several thousand” green card holders.
Blinken praised the evacuation as "a heroic effort," vowing further humanitarian aid
to Afghanistan through non-governmental organisations and UN agencies, not the Taliban
"Any legitimacy that they may seek from the international community ... is going to be contingent on their actions," he said.
Ahead of the hearing, the Republican National Committee released a statement demanding Blinken be held to account for handling of the Afghanistan developments.
“Today´s hearing makes Blinken´s failures and lies abundantly clear, Biden has no choice but to fire Blinken, hold him accountable, and take responsibility for the disaster he created,” RNC chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said later.
Republican House members introduced articles of impeachment for Blinken earlier, arguing he had failed to properly advise Biden.
"Secretary Blinken has failed to faithfully uphold his oath and has instead presided over a reckless abandonment of our nation's interests, security, and values in his role in the withdrawal of American forces and diplomatic assets from Afghanistan," the articles said.
Blinken is also to testify Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to answer questions about his department’s role in the Afghan pullout
Senate Armed Services Committee members are to hold a non-public briefing on the same issues on Wednesday, hearing from Gen. Austin Scott Miller, former commander of US Forces-Afghanistan.
Two other public hearings have been slated for September 28 - with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley.
* Terrorist groups outlawed in Russia and many other countries.