Antony Blinken Defends Afghanistan Withdrawal, Citing Trump’s Deal
The chief U.S. diplomat on Monday defended the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, telling a House committee that the Biden administration was bound to former President Donald Trump’s agreement with the Taliban and that remaining would have risked more American lives.
“The Taliban made abundantly clear... that it was going to hold us to the deadline that the previous administration negotiated in terms of withdrawing American forces,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
In the combative hearing, Republican committee members told Mr. Blinken that he should resign. They accused him and the Biden administration of betraying U.S. soldiers, of manipulating intelligence to give an overly rosy prognosis of the Afghan government and military’s ability to hold off the Taliban and of surrendering to the Taliban.
“The Biden administration’s outrageously inept withdrawal has left America and the world a much less safe place, 20 years after September 11,” said Rep. Ann Wagner (R., Mo.). One of her constituents was among the 13 U.S. service members killed in the Aug. 26 terrorist attack at the Kabul airport.
The committee’s Democrats faulted the Trump administration for its February 2020 agreement with the Taliban, but many also criticized the execution of the withdrawal.
“Yes, the majority of the American people wanted to leave Afghanistan but not like this,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (R., Ohio).
Rep. Brad Sherman (D., Calif.) said that efforts by Afghan elites to flee the country ahead of a Taliban takeover triggered a “stampede,” preventing the Biden administration from executing an orderly exit.
Mr. Blinken said the U.S. had long ago achieved its objectives in Afghanistan, including degrading the ability of the al Qaeda terrorist group to strike the U.S., and that staying longer wouldn’t have led to a different outcome.
“One of the lessons is while we are very effective in dealing with terrorist threats to our country and eliminating them, which we did very successfully in Afghanistan, the idea of using military force to remake a society is something that is beyond our means and capacity,” Mr. Blinken said.
The secretary told the committee that the administration coordinated its withdrawal plans with U.S. allies, expedited processing of Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans who had aided the U.S. government and mounted an extraordinary effort to evacuate Americans and others. He said the State Department repeatedly urged American citizens to leave the country and offered assistance to do so, sending messages 19 times beginning in March.
He said that about 100 U.S. citizens who still want to leave remain in Afghanistan.
Mr. Blinken also is scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Administration officials have said that communications with the Taliban are limited to logistics and security matters and don’t signal formal recognition of the legitimacy of Taliban rule. U.S. and foreign leaders continue to urge the Taliban to respect the rights of women, ethnic minorities and members of other vulnerable populations, even as reports mount of human-rights violations by the group.
The inclusion in the newly formed government of members of the terrorist-designated Haqqani network further complicates the U.S. position.
Mr. Blinken said that the administration didn’t anticipate the speed at which the Afghan government and security forces collapsed. “Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained,” he said.
Administration officials have said they are working continuously on further evacuations, negotiating with foreign partners, such as Qatar, and the Taliban to get more Americans and Afghans out of the country.
The administration will continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people—including nearly $64 million announced Monday—to be administered by nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations, Mr. Blinken told the committee.