Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify twice this week before Congress as the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden defends its much-criticized handling of the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Blinken first appeared on September 13 before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, discussing the months leading up to the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and evacuations in the final days of August.
The administration has come under criticism from both Republicans and Democrats for the chaotic effort to evacuate American citizens and at-risk Afghans out of the country after the Taliban took control of Kabul on August 15 following a blistering offensive that toppled the Western-backed government.
Blinken is expected to face hours of questioning before the House, and another testimony the following day before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, amid finger-pointing over how the two-decade-long U.S. presence in the country ended.
In testimony to the House, Blinken sought to deflect allegations against the Biden administration, saying it had inherited a U.S.-Taliban peace deal from its predecessor, President Donald Trump, and little in the way of planning.
He also repeated President Biden's view that the United States had the choice of withdrawing U.S. troops from Afghanistan or doubling down in continuing America's longest war.
"There's no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining," Blinken said.
"If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or 10, make a difference?" he asked.
He also deflected accusations about a failure to evacuate many at-risk Afghans by pointing out the Trump administration had failed to grant visas to Afghans who had worked for the U.S. government. He also said the United States is committed to bringing out at-risk Afghans and a small number of Americans left behind, if they want to leave Afghanistan.
The Biden administration had assessed that the Taliban would not swiftly takeover Afghanistan, and Blinken sought to counter criticism about this failure by noting 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.
He also defended the evacuation effort, saying it succeeded despite many difficulties.
“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.”
In his testimony, Blinken pledged that the United States will continue to support humanitarian aid.
With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
Blinken Defends U.S. Afghanistan Policy Before Congress