Blinken’s testimony as Afghanistan changes the game in US Congress

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a 9/11 commemoration event at the State Department in Washington, U.S.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends the 9/11 Commemoration Program at the State Department in Washington, US
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarks during a 9/11 commemoration event to mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks at the State Department in Washington, US, September 10, 2021. Reuters/Evelyn Hawkstein/Pool

September 13, 2021

By Patricia Zengrell and Humayra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify twice about America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan to Congress this week, as lawmakers begin a long series of high-intensity hearings about the chaotic end of America’s longest war. of may be.

Members of Congress – President Joe Biden’s fellow Democrat as well as opposition Republicans – have planned hearings as the Taliban took control of the country after a swift move last month.

Blinken will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, the first Biden administration official to publicly testify to lawmakers since the Islamist terrorist group’s takeover.

Fireworks are expected given the amount of finger-pointing on how the two-decade-long American presence in the country ended. Some Republicans have called for Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Blinken to resign.

“We look forward to a confrontational hearing,” said a Senate aide.

Members of Congress prepared a long list of questions for the veteran diplomat about the rapid collapse of the US-backed Afghan government and the Biden administration’s scramble to evacuate more than 142,000 people, including Americans, at-risk Afghans and fleeing the Taliban. Others who wished were involved. .

“I think there will be a lot of questions about what decisions were being made to withdraw, including pressure on DoD (Department of Defense) to withdraw troops before the White House can evacuate American citizens and our Afghan partners. Why put up,” Representative Michael McCall, the top Republican on the House Committee, said in a written reply to a request for comment at the hearing.

He said he also wanted to know why assets like Bagram Air Base were not maintained and why the administration did not reach monitoring and counter-terrorism agreements with neighboring countries.

McCall said he expected questions about what happened at Kabul’s airport during the evacuation ahead of the administration’s August 31 deadline to leave the country. Thirteen American soldiers and dozens of Afghans were killed in a suicide bombing amid the chaos.

“We all want to know what the (department) is doing to fulfill President Biden’s promise to get the remaining Americans, green card holders and our Afghan partners out of the country before it’s too late,” McCall said. Used to be.”

20 years partnership

Democrats said they want the hearing to address not only the seven months when Biden was president before Kabul was captured by the Taliban, but the full 20 years of US involvement in the country – under four presidents from both sides.

A US-led invasion in 2001 after the September 11 attacks toppled the Taliban, masterminded by al Qaeda leaders based in Afghanistan.

“My fear is that Republicans are going to turn this into a circus and try to blame Joe Biden for 20 years of mistakes in Afghanistan,” Senator Chris Murphy, a Democratic member of the foreign relations panel, told reporters. a conference call.

Murphy, who agreed with the decision to withdraw rather than “stay forever”, said he did not want the hearing to focus solely on evacuation.

“The real question is why did we stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years, when we knew we had no way to build an Afghan army, an Afghan government that would be able to hold the country against the Taliban after we left. was capable,” Murphy said.

Another committee Democrat, Senator Chris Van Hollen, noted that Republican former President Donald Trump had pushed for an even faster exit from Afghanistan and criticized Biden for staying as long as he did.

“It’s a little harder to take and listen to Republican allies who strongly supported Trump’s decisions, who are now attacking President Biden for decisions he previously supported,” he said on the same call.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengrell and Humayra Pamuk; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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