Blinken said the Biden government was shackled by Trump’s agreement with the Taliban, which partially reduced the US troop presence to 2,500 by the time Biden took office. As the Taliban continued their “relentless” military campaign regardless of this agreement, Blinken said, Biden “immediately faced the choice of ending or escalating the war”.
“Would have [Biden] If his predecessor’s commitment was not met, the attacks on our armed forces and those of our allies would have resumed and the Taliban’s nationwide attack on the major cities of Afghanistan would have begun, ”said Blinken.
Several Democrat-led congressional committees are already investigating the withdrawal, a dynamic that threatens to make Biden’s efforts to sell the trigger as needed and the subsequent evacuation operation – which resulted in the airlift of more than 120,000 people – a success.
While Republicans focused on recent events leading up to the fall of Kabul, Democrats sought to widen the scope of the hearing to include an investigation into the mistakes made among presidents of both parties for nearly two decades.
“We’re seeing domestic policy flow into foreign policy,” said Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks (DN.Y.) of Republican criticism of the Biden government’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. Meeks added that the committee will also hear from officials from the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations as part of the review of the panel.
The State Department has already confirmed that thousands of Afghan allies applying for special immigrant visas, in addition to several hundred Americans, were left behind when the last U.S. troops left Afghanistan on August 31 (some of these U.S. citizens have since been evacuated from the country .)
“Our standing on the world stage has deteriorated significantly,” said Texas MP Michael McCaul, Republican chief on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He accused Blinken of having “betrayed” these Afghan allies.
Legislators from both parties had criticized the Biden government for failing to start evacuating these vulnerable Afghans, particularly SIV applicants and their families, earlier. Many of them served as translators and interpreters for the US military during the war.
This delay sparked a scramble within the US government, with Biden dispatching more than 5,000 soldiers to secure the main airport in Kabul, where the US-led evacuation mission was based.
Blinken again blamed the Trump administration, arguing that Biden “inherited” a broken SIV program that was 17,000 visas backlog.
“For nine months, since March 2020, there has not been a single interview with an SIV applicant in Kabul,” said Blinken. “The program was basically at a dead end.”
In response to Republican criticism of US citizens staying behind in Afghanistan, Blinken said US diplomats began urging Americans to leave the country as early as March. Still, Biden admitted last month that “this has been moving faster than we expected,” but argued that the rapid collapse of the Afghan government shows that it was the “right decision” to leave Afghanistan.
“There is no evidence that a longer stay would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government more resilient or self-supporting,” said Blinken. “If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment and training isn’t enough, why should another year or five or ten make a difference?”
Blinken later addressed the US counter-terrorism strategy for Afghanistan, a major blind spot for lawmakers as officials warn of the possibility of the country becoming a safe haven again for terrorist groups like al-Qaeda. Blinken said the US has so-called anti-terrorism capabilities beyond the horizon, but he acknowledged that these are limited with no boots or bases on the ground.
“We will remain very vigilant when it comes to the recurrence of a threat from al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups,” added Blinken.