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. “We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan,” he said, maintaining that the administration had done the right thing in ending 20 years of war.
“We made the right decision in ending America’s longest-running war,” said Blinken, who will testify on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Republicans savaged the withdrawal process 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 an exact number. He said roughly 100 U.S. citizens remain along with about “several thousand” green card holders.
“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 colleagues Steve Chabot of Ohio and Lee Zeldin of New York were even more blunt. “This is a disgrace,” Chabot said. “This was fatally flawed and poorly executed,” said Zeldin. “I believe that you, sir, should resign. That would be leadership.”
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.