US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is facing a second day of tough congressional questions about the Biden administration’s much-criticized withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Blinken seeks to ward off a new wave of bipartisan lawmaker anger over the operation that resulted in the complete takeover by the Taliban, and has left many American citizens, green card holders and at-risk Afghans stranded in the country.
The top two members of the committee, New Jersey Democrat Bob Menendez and Idaho Republican James Risch, both assail the withdrawal as a debacle in their opening remarks.
The withdrawal “was clearly and fatally flawed,” says committee chairman Menendez, who has been generally supportive of US President Joe Biden’s foreign policy but has taken issue with several of its aspects, including Afghanistan.
“The withdrawal was a dismal failure,” says Risch, the ranking GOP member of the panel, accusing the administration of “ineptitude.”
Blinken tries to deflect the criticism and maintains the administration had done the best it could under extremely trying and chaotic circumstances. He again blames the Trump administration for its February 2020 peace deal with the Taliban that he says tied Biden’s hands, as well as the quick and unexpected collapse of the Afghan government and security forces that led to the Taliban takeover on August 15.
“Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while US forces remained,” he says. “They were focused on what would happen after the United States withdrew, from September onward.”