Secretary of State Antony Blinken will once again be in the hot seat as he testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday after his House hearing on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Blinken faced criticism from Republican representatives on Monday because the “fatally flawed and poorly executed” mission resulted in the deaths of 13 US service members and left behind hundreds of US civilians and Afghan allies.
Several members called for Blinken to resign. “It will be leadership,” said Republican Representative Lee Zeldin of New York.
Blinken defended the actions of the State Department and President Joe Biden during the withdrawal of Afghanistan, which ended America’s 20-year presence in the country.
“President Biden was faced with the choice of ending the war or moving it forward,” he said, noting that Taliban forces already had a strong presence in Afghanistan when Biden took office in January 2021.
“Had he not followed the commitment of his predecessor, the attacks on our forces and our allies would have resumed,” he said.
Blinken said there was “no evidence” that a longer stay in Afghanistan would “make the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government more resilient or self-reliant.”
The secretary and some Democratic representatives shifted the blame to the Trump administration for negotiating a deal with the Taliban that would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners and set an initial May 1 deadline that President Biden extended to August 31.
“We’ve inherited a deadline; we haven’t inherited a plan,” Blinken told committee members.
Republican Representative Adam Kizinger of Illinois said during the hearing that the “Trump administration failed to setup,” the Biden administration “absolutely failed to execute.”
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing will begin at 10 a.m. ET.
This story will be updated throughout the hearing.
Blinken says there were “handful” cases of sexual abuse among Afghan children evacuated to Afghanistan
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked Secretary Blinken how many Afghan children were subjected to the sexual abuse of older male evacuees at military bases or transit points in other countries.
Blinken said everyone involved in the process, whether in the US or abroad, “has taken the utmost care in dealing with any matters or concerns.”
When pressured to give multiple such examples, Blinken said there were “a handful of cases” of sexual abuse.
Cruz suppresses Blinken in the name of Americans, weak Afghans given to Taliban
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was “the worst foreign policy catastrophe in a generation.”
He said Jimmy Carter owns the disaster of the Iran hostage crisis and you [Secretary Blinken] Its owner.
Cruz rebuked Biden and Democratic senators who accused former President Donald Trump of the Afghanistan crisis, saying “the Biden administration caused this disaster.”
He then expressed his concern that the State Department gave the Taliban the names of American citizens and Afghan allies.
Secretary Blinken denied reports that his department “endangered civilians” and said the US made a manifesto to allow people to board buses at checkpoints in “limited cases”. He said that on the manifest everyone was allowed to go through the checkpoint.
Blinken did not say how many names were in the manifest.
“I am responsible for my decisions,” Blinken says
During hearings in both the House and Senate, Secretary Blinken has faced criticism for his lack of accountability in the wake of Afghanistan’s withdrawal.
“What we’ve seen here is a failure of leadership,” Senator Bill Haggerty (R-TN) said during a Senate hearing, “which has diverted blame and shamed us as a nation.”
In response, Secretary Blinken said that he is taking responsibility for his decisions and actions in Afghanistan.
“I am responsible for the decisions I made, for the actions of my department, for the lessons learned from those actions, and for holding myself accountable through you and through you to the American people, what I am making here today, and others.” through briefings, and will continue to do so,” Blinken said.
Senator Paul interrogates Blinken on drone strike, aid money
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said it was “stupid” to believe that the Taliban would not accept US aid for humanitarian aid efforts in Afghanistan.
Paul suggested subtracting $80 million in military equipment left behind from the millions of dollars the Biden administration had promised to send in aid.
He said paying money to the Taliban would be an “insult to injury” after 13 members of the US service were killed in Kabul.
Paul also questioned Blinken over the recent drone attack that allegedly accidentally killed an aid worker and several civilians.
Blinken said he did not know whether the person killed was a member of ISIS-K or an aid worker, but administration is investigating the incident.
“Maybe you create hundreds of new potential terrorists by bombing the wrong people,” Paul said. “We can’t have an investigation after killing people, we have an investigation before we kill people with bombs.”
Senator Portman says 3/4 Afghans airlifted “didn’t qualify” for evacuation
Secretary Blinken said the US prioritizes the evacuation of US citizens, and would also aim to evacuate “several thousand” legal permanent residents and SIV applicants left in Afghanistan.
Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) said Blinken’s statement that “the vast majority of those who are at risk passed out” was not true.
Portman said three-quarters of Afghans evacuated “did not qualify.”
US embassy in Kabul expected to remain open after August 31 return, says Blinken
Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) asked Blinken why the US had not pushed back the evacuation deadline of August 31.
Blinken said that “we took a risk” moving the date to an initial deadline of May 1. He said that the army needs three to four months to conduct its countervailing efforts in a strong and systematic manner.
“Our expectation was that after August 31, beyond a military fall, the government, the security forces, would be in control of Kabul,” Blinken said.
He said the US embassy expected to continue operating in Kabul.
“What we didn’t expect was the 11-day collapse of Afghan security forces. That changed everything,” Blinken said.
Blinken says Taliban has not broken ties with al Qaeda
Secretary Blinken said the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda or the Haqqani network “has not broken.”
“It is a very open question whether their views and relations have changed,” he said.
Blinken said the Taliban were “strongly discouraged” from carrying out attacks with al Qaeda. He said the Taliban and ISIS-K are “sworn enemies”.
He also expressed an openness to writing a new authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) to combat the re-emergence of ISIS-K and al-Qaeda.
Senator Shaheen called “hypocrisy” after Republican senators blocked efforts to help SIV applicants
Senator Jean Shaheen (D-NH), addressing his fellow committee members, asked where Republicans were outraged when efforts to bring more Afghan SIVs into the US for a decade were blocked “year after year” by some Republicans Was.
“Let’s stop with the hypocrisy about blame,” she said.
She also drew attention to the safety of women and girls in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.
She said she wanted to know “where was the outrage in their peace deal with the Taliban, negotiated by the Trump administration and former Secretary Pompeo when they were giving women and girls the rights”.
Shaheen is the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Blinken said the administration would appoint a senior official to lead efforts to help women and girls in Afghanistan
Senator Rubio calls on US intelligence officials not to see rapid collapse of Afghan forces
Senator Marco Rubio said in 2020 “Afghanistan was already in bad shape” and that the US should have known that Afghan forces were about to collapse before withdrawal efforts could begin.
“It is a matter of concern that no one has looked at all this and concluded that there is no evidence or reason to believe that a rapid collapse may have occurred,” Rubio said.
He said that if the US didn’t see this intelligence, Rubio said, “we have the wrong people in the leadership.”
Blinken said that by July the situation was deteriorating as the Taliban made progress on the ground. However, he added that the intelligence community did not see that the situation would worsen in a matter of days.
“nothing we” [he and General Mark Milley] Saw Afghanistan collapse in a few days.”
Blinken agreed with Rubio that “we need to look back on all of this,” referring to the intelligence community’s assessment.
100 US citizens left in Afghanistan who want to leave
Blinken said the number of US citizens willing to leave Afghanistan is about 100.
He said an exact number is difficult to determine, as some people change their plans or wish to leave or stay “day by day”.
Blinken doesn’t have an exact number of SIV applicants or Afghans the US wants to evacuate, but said a breakdown is coming in the next…