Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens during a cabinet meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 20, File Photo by Al Drago/UPI | License Photo
Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the administration's handling of the chaotic withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan in an appearance before a House committee Monday.
Blinken testified in front of the House foreign affairs committee via video link during a hearing entitled "Afghanistan 2001-2021: Evaluating the Withdrawal and U.S. Policies."
As President Joe Biden and others in his administration have said previously, Blinken in his opening statement reiterated that the scenes of chaos at the Kabul International Airport as thousands of Afghans sought to flee from the Taliban's lightning victory couldn't have been predicted.
"Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained," he said. "As General (Mark) Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said, 'Nothing I or anyone else saw indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days."
But, because of contingency planning, the State Department was "able to draw down our embassy and move our remaining personnel to the airport within 48 hours. And the military -- placed on stand-by by the president -- was able to secure the airport and start the evacuation within 72 hours."
The result, he said, was "one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety," followed by massive efforts by U.S. personnel to house and process tens of thousands of Afghan refugees.
"We can all be deeply proud of what they're doing," Blinken said. "And as we've done throughout our history, Americans are now welcoming families from Afghanistan into our communities and helping them resettle as they start their new lives."
Republican critics of the White House, as well as some Democrats, have contended the withdrawal was botched and ill-planned. But committee chairman Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., defended the administration's handling of the withdrawal.
"For my friends who presume a clean solution for the withdrawal existed, I would welcome hearing what exactly a smooth withdrawal from a messy, chaotic 20-year war looks like," he said. "In fact, I've yet to hear the clean withdrawal option because I don't believe one exists."
The House committee hearing is just the first among what is expected to be a series of congressional probes of the Afghanistan withdrawal this week. Blinken will also appear before the Senate foreign relations panel on Tuesday in what could be a contentious meeting.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has criticized both former President Donald Trump and Biden for proceeding with what he called a "flawed" withdrawal.