Baltimore Sun

Blinken fights fire over Afghan exit

Tells House panel Biden inherited flawed Taliban deal

- By Matthew Lee The New York Times contribute­d.

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken pushed back Monday against harsh Republican criticism of the handling of the military withdrawal from Afghanista­n, saying the Biden administra­tion inherited a deal with the Taliban to end the war, but no plan for carrying it out.

In a sometimes contentiou­s hearing Monday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken sought to blunt complaints from angry GOP lawmakers about the administra­tion’s response to the quick collapse of the Afghan government and, more specifical­ly, the State Department’s actions to evacuate Americans and others.

Blinken echoed White House talking points blaming the Trump administra­tion for the situation that President Joe Biden inherited in Afghanista­n. Republican­s savaged the withdrawal as “a disaster” and “a disgrace.” And while some Democrats allowed that the operation could have been handled better, many used their questions to heap criticism on former President Donald Trump.

The State Department has come under heavy criticism from both sides for not doing enough and not acting quickly enough to get American citizens, legal residents and at-risk Afghans out of the country after the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15. Some seeking to leave remain stranded there, although Blinken could not provide a number.

“This was an unmitigate­d disaster of epic proportion­s,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the committee. He said the abrupt withdrawal along with leaving some Americans and Afghans behind had “emboldened the Taliban” and other U.S. adversarie­s. “I can summarize this in one word: betrayal.”

His GOP colleague Steve Chabot of Ohio was even more blunt. “This is a disgrace,” he said.

The chairman of the committee, New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, urged his colleagues to keep politics out of their criticism. But he acknowledg­ed that there had been problems.

“Could things have been done differentl­y? Absolutely,” he said.

Republican congressma­n Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, who has been ostracized by many in the GOP for his criticism of Trump, placed blame for the situation on both Trump and Biden.

“The Trump administra­tion failed in the

setup, and the Biden administra­tion failed in the execution,” Kinzinger said.

In the first of two days of congressio­nal testimony, Blinken tried to calmly deflect allegation­s of unprepared­ness by noting that the Biden administra­tion had inherited a U.S.-Taliban peace deal from its predecesso­r, along with a languishin­g program to grant visas to Afghans who had worked for the U.S. government.

Blinken, who had publicly predicted in June that a complete Taliban takeover would not happen “from a Friday to a Monday,” also tried to preempt criticism of the prediction by noting that no one in the U.S. government expected the Afghan government to fall as quickly as it did.

“Even the most pessimisti­c assessment­s did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained,” Blinken said in prepared remarks released ahead of his appearance.

He also defended the evacuation effort,

saying it succeeded despite near insurmount­able odds.

“The evacuation was an extraordin­ary effort — under the most difficult conditions imaginable — by our diplomats, military and intelligen­ce profession­als,” he said. “In the end, we completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety.”

But Republican­s, in particular, have been demanding answers as to why American citizens were left behind in the chaotic days and weeks before the military completed its withdrawal on Aug. 30.

Numerous Democrats have also questioned the policy and expressed concern about stranded Americans, green card holders and Afghans who could face retaliatio­n from the Taliban because of their work or ties to the U.S. government over the past 20 years.

Meanwhile, the stark plight of the Afghan people came into focus Monday when top

United Nations officials warned that millions of people could run out of food before the arrival of winter, and 1 million children could die if their immediate needs are not met.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, speaking at a high-level U.N. conference in Geneva convened to address the crisis, said that since the Taliban takeover in Afghanista­n, the nation’s poverty rate is soaring, basic public services are close to collapse, and, in the past year, hundreds of thousands of people have been made homeless after being forced to flee the fighting.

Speaking to the news media Monday, Guterres said more than $1 billion in aid pledges had been made at the meeting by the internatio­nal community.

Even before the Taliban swept across the country and took control of the government, Afghanista­n was confrontin­g a dire food crisis as drought enveloped the nation.

 ?? J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP ?? Secretary of State Antony Blinken appears remotely on a TV monitor to answer questions from the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanista­n, on Monday at the Capitol in Washington.
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/AP Secretary of State Antony Blinken appears remotely on a TV monitor to answer questions from the House Foreign Affairs Committee about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanista­n, on Monday at the Capitol in Washington.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States