US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday faced anger and bipartisan criticism from senators unhappy with the Biden administration’s handling of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
“The execution of the US withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed,” Senator Bob Menendez, Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Blinken during a committee hearing.
Menendez said the committee will seek a “full explanation” of the administration’s decisions on Afghanistan since US President Joe Biden took office in January.
“There has to be responsibility,” said Menendez, who argued that the Biden administration “clearly did not meet” its stated goal of leaving “a lasting political settlement” in Afghanistan.
Almost 20 years after invading Afghanistan in 2001 following the al-Qaeda attacks on September 11, the US military completed its withdrawal from the country on August 30.
The American evacuation of Kabul after the Taliban took control of the Afghan capital was marked by chaotic scenes as thousands of Afghans converged on the city’s airport, desperate to leave the country amid fears of possible retaliation by the group. .
At least 175 people, including 13 US military personnel, were killed at the Kabul airport in a suicide attack claimed by the Islamic State in the Khorasan province, ISKP (ISIS-K).
Afghanistan is currently facing a humanitarian crisis, as supplies of food and medicine are in short supply and millions of people are at risk.
Senator James Risch, the top Republican on the Senate panel, called the US withdrawal a “regrettable failure” and accused the Biden administration of “ineptitude.”
“One of the things we need to get to the bottom of is, who is responsible for this? Who made the decisions? “said Risch, who had been chairman of the committee when former President Donald Trump negotiated the US withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in 2020.
“While I supported a responsible end to the war in Afghanistan, no American believes that we should have gone this way. The United States cannot end a war simply by walking away, ”Risch said.
Military officers will be called to testify
The critical tone of the Senate hearing portends trouble for the Biden administration as it seeks to recover from a difficult month in which the president’s poll numbers have fallen.
It also points out future challenges for the administration in negotiating with the Taliban, as well as its efforts to handle the situation in Afghanistan with US allies.
On Tuesday, Menendez said he intends to call US military officials to testify before the committee and expressed disappointment that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin refused to appear at the hearing.
“A full explanation of the US response to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon, especially when it comes to understanding the total collapse of the US-funded and trained Afghan army,” Menendez said.
He also threatened to issue subpoenas to witnesses and delay Senate confirmation of Defense Department political candidates. During 20 years of US involvement in Afghanistan, “Congress has been misled,” Menendez said.
Blinken faced sharper questioning from several members of the Senate committee, including Senator Rand Paul, who demanded to know whether the US military mistakenly targeted a humanitarian worker in a drone strike on Aug. 29.
Blinken could not say if the target was a humanitarian worker pending the results of a US investigation. Residents told AFP news agency that the US raid had killed 10 civilians, including several children.
“I see these photos of these beautiful children who died in the attack,” Paul said. “You can’t have an investigation after killing people,” he said. “You have an investigation before you kill people.”
Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican, suggested that Blinken should resign. “We have a very significant failure here, a global ratio failure,” he said.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat and political ally of President Joe Biden, also challenged Blinken on why the administration had not been better prepared for a collapse of the US-backed government in Kabul.
“Contingency planning for something that was a possibility was not all that it should have been,” Kaine said.
American diplomats in Afghanistan had warned Blinken in a secret cable in July of a possible fall of the Afghan government in Kabul, according to a Wall Street Journal report.