Blinken defends Afghanistan withdrawal in second congressional hearing

Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the second day defended the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI
Secretary of State Antony Blinken for the second day defended the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo

Sept. 14 (UPI) -- Senators on Tuesday grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan which Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. called "fatally flawed."

Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pledged to hold the Biden administration accountable for the U.S. exit from Afghanistan as Blinken testified before Congress for the second consecutive day.


"The execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed," Menendez said in his opening remarks. "This committee expects to receive a full explanation of the administration's decisions on Afghanistan since coming into office last January. There has to be accountability."

Blinken continued to defend President Joe Biden's decision to withdraw U.S. troops and end the 20-year war with Afghanistan, saying no one in the government expected Afghan forces to surrender to the Taliban so quickly, allowing the militant group to take control of the country.


"Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained," Blinken said. "They were focused on what would happen after the United States withdrew, from September onward."

Blinken added the administration began planning for a "worst-case scenario" in the spring and summer, which included contingency plans for evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Kabul within 48 hours and establishing control over Kabul International Airport.

He testified Tuesday that 2,400 U.S. troops would not have been enough to prevent Afghanistan from falling to the Taliban and that the administration would have had to surge a significant number of troops to combat the collapse.

RELATED 21 more U.S. citizens evacuated from Afghanistan

Following the collapse, Blinken said the State Department and Pentagon orchestrated "an extraordinary effort" to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan allies in the two weeks before troops were fully withdrawn.

Blinken said the State Department is "still tabulating" the number of Special Immigrant Visa applicants who need to leave Afghanistan and added that "thousands" of American green-card holders remain in the country.

In response to a question by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, about why the administration could not push the withdrawal date beyond Aug. 31 to process SIV applicants, Blinken said "we took some risks" and that the timing was largely a military consideration.


"They worked around the clock to get American citizens, Afghans who helped us, citizens of our allies and partners and at-risk Afghans on planes out of the country," Blinken said. "In the end, we completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety."

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., asked Blinken if an Aug. 29 drone strike killed an Afghan aid worker and his family and not members of the Islamic State-Khorasan Province as the Defense Department had said.

Blinken said that he did not know but the administration was reviewing the matter.

"You'd think you'd kind of know before you off someone with a predator drone," Paul said.

Menendez and Sen. James Risch, R-Idaho, both called for Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to testify before Congress. Menendez said he will consider the use of subpoena power if Austin doesn't testify soon.

"A full accounting of the U.S. response to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon, especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the U.S.-trained and funded Afghan military," Menendez said. "His decision not to appear before the committee will affect my personal judgment on Department of Defense nominees."


Scenes from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (L) and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark A. Milley deliver remarks about the end of the 20-year military mission in Afghanistan at the Pentagon, in Arlington, Va., on September 1. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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