House Republicans grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the Biden administration’s foreign policy and intelligence failures surrounding the chaotic withdrawal of Americans from Afghanistan and the Taliban’s rapid takeover while Blinkien and Democratic lawmakers tried to pin the blame squarely on former President Donald Trump.
Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, kicked off the GOP’s line of questioning by noting that the administration’s mishandling of the military pullout last month left hundreds of US citizens and Afghan allies behind an “unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.”
“Over the last several weeks, we witnessed Afghanistan rapidly fall to the Taliban in the chaotic aftermath that followed. This did not have to happen.
But the president refused to listen to his own generals in the intelligence community. You warned him precisely what would happen when we withdrew. This was an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. I never thought in my lifetime that I would see an unconditional surrender to the Taliban,” McCaul said in his opening remarks to the committee.
Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) told Blinken she was at the hearing on behalf of the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Schmitz who was among the 13 service members killed in a ISIS-K suicide bombing near the Kabul airport in the final days of the evacuation last month.
She said his family and other families of the fallen deserve answers.
“I am outraged to hear this administration claim its retreat from Afghanistan, its surrender, was a success. How could anyone say that 13 precious young men and women losing their lives was a success?” Wagner told Blinken.
She said Biden wanted out of Afghanistan and it cost the lives of the 13 service members who died in the bombing.
“Make no mistake, Mr. Secretary, the Biden administration’s egregiously inept withdrawal has left America and the world a much less safe place 20 years after Sept. 11,” Wagner said.
“Do you take any responsibility, Secretary Blinken, for this disastrous withdrawal, or do you still want to call it a success,” she asked.
Blinken said he is “responsible for the decisions that I make.”
“I’m responsible for the actions of the State Department. I’m responsible for looking at any lessons to be taken from those decisions and those actions. I’m also responsible for being accountable for those decisions. … The way that I’m accountable is doing exactly what I’m doing today, which is to you and through you to the American people to hold myself accountable,” he said.
But Blinken, who repeatedly throuhgout four hours of testimony blamed the previous adminsitration for the need to expedite the pullout instead of Presiudent Biden’s desire to be out by the 20th anniversary oif 9/11, went on to say the administration made the “right decision” to end America’s longest war and not to send a third generation of Americans “to fight and die in Afghanistan.”
McCaul said congressional offices were inundated with requests to get American citizens and Afghan allies out of the country because the State Department “failed to provide help.
“Amid the evacuation efforts, McCaul said 13 American military members were “brutally murdered by ISIS-K, trying to help American citizens and our Afghan partners escape from the Taliban.”
McCaul also pointed out that as the US remembered the 20 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda that propelled the US to launch the war in Afghanistan, the Taliban had their own reason to cheer.
“And while we mourn the loss of almost 3,000 innocent people, the Taliban at the same time, celebrated by raising their flag over the presidential palace, days before they raised their flag on the wall of our United States Embassy, proclaiming the defeat of the United States of America,” he said.
Rep. Gregory Meeks, the Democratic chairman of the committee, said in his opening comments that the Biden administration could have done things differently during the pullout, but said he has yet to hear “a clean withdrawal option and believes one does not exist.”
Meeks, of New York City, insisted President Biden’s hands were tied on Afghanistan because of the peace deal former President Donald Trump negotiated with the Taliban in February 2020, and said keeping troops in Afghanistan after Aug. 31 would have “left them in the middle of a rapidly deteriorating war zone.”
“And it strikes me that many of those critical of the administration evacuation efforts are really just angry that the president made good on his pledge to end America’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan,” Meeks said.
“They are masking their displeasure with criticism but failed to offer feasible alternatives. Once again, we are seeing domestic politics injected into foreign policy,” he said.
In his opening statement to lawmakers, Blinken, testifying virtually, defended the timing of the withdrawal and said the president “inherited an agreement” made by Trump and the Taliban “to remove all remaining US troops by May 1 of this year.”
“Had he not followed through on his predecessor’s commitment, attacks on our forces and those of our allies would have resumed and the Taliban’s nationwide assault on Afghanistan’s major cities would have commenced,” Blinken said.
America’s top diplomat also said as part of the Trump deal, 5,000 Taliban prisoners were released and the US was committed to reducing its presence to 2,500 troops in Afghanistan.
At the same time, the jihadist group “continued its relentless march on remote outposts, checkpoints, villages, and districts, as well as the major roads.”
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) blasted Blinken for not coming to Capitol Hill to testify in person.
“Mr. Blinken, assuming it isn’t classified, can you tell us where you are today?” Perry asked him.
“Yes, I’m at the State Department,” Blinken said.
“Oh, couldn’t be bothered to come down here and see Congress?” Perry shot back. “All right, that’s great.”