Blinken to defend Biden on Afghanistan at hearing

Secretary of State Antony BlinkenAntony BlinkenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Diplomats express 'frustration' to Blinken over Havana syndrome skepticism: report Biden's post-Afghanistan focus on China is mostly positive so far MORE is set to defend the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years of U.S. involvement ahead of what is sure to be sharp questioning from lawmakers of both parties frustrated with the chaotic departure.

Blinken will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Monday after an evacuation effort that airlifted 124,000 people out of the country — but that still left many vulnerable Afghans behind.

“There’s no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining. If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or ten, make a difference?” Blinken is expected to say, according to his written opening testimony shared ahead of the Monday afternoon hearing.

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The hearing is set to be the first of many oversight efforts from lawmakers eager for answers from the State Department as well as the Department of Defense about the rushed withdrawal and the administration's plans to assist allies who worked alongside the military.

In his opening remarks, Blinken largely blames the Trump administration for stalling the processing of the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) given to former interpreters and others that assisted the military, along with their families. 

“There had not been a single interview of an SIV applicant in Kabul in nine months, going back to March of 2020. The program was basically in a dead stall,” Blinken will say. 

“Within two weeks of taking office, we restarted the SIV interview process in Kabul.”

He will also echo previous comments from President BidenJoe BidenUN meeting with US, France canceled over scheduling issue Schumer moves to break GOP blockade on Biden's State picks GOP Rep. Cawthorn likens vaccine mandates to 'modern-day segregation' MORE in saying that many Americans on the ground did not heed the administration’s warnings to leave the country.

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“In March, we began urging them to leave the country. In total, between March and August, we sent 19 specific messages with that warning — and with offers of help, including financial assistance to pay for plane tickets,” he will say.

“Despite this effort, at the time the evacuation began, there were still thousands of Americans in Afghanistan, almost all of whom were evacuated by August 31. Many were dual citizens living in Afghanistan for years, decades, generations. Deciding whether or not to leave the place they know as home is a wrenching decision.”

But the comments could reignite questions over why the U.S. government was so ill-prepared for a quick Taliban takeover.

The Biden administration has repeatedly defended it’s planning by arguing that no one foresaw such a swift fall of the country.

“There was nothing that I or any other of us saw that indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days,” Gen. Mark MilleyMark MilleyWoodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Rocky US alliances as Biden heads to UN assembly Thompson says he hopes Jan 6. committee can complete work by 'early spring' MORE, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, previously told reporters.

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Blinken is also sure to face questions over how the State Department is addressing the fate of SIV applicants, those who are caught in a Catch-22 of being unable to finish their applications in Afghanistan because of the absence of U.S. consular services but being unable to exit the country for fear of reprisal from the Taliban and, in general, because of extraordinary restrictions on travel out of the country. 

Lawmakers are also likely to push the secretary on how the administration is dealing with the newly formed Taliban government, whose ranks include sanctioned-individuals and people who have an FBI-bounty on their heads for committing or sponsoring terrorism.

“The Taliban has committed to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external operations that could threaten the United States or our allies, including Al Qaeda and ISIS-K. We will hold them accountable to that. That does not mean we will rely on them,” Blinken's written testimony reads.

Further, the secretary will have to grapple with how the administration is planning to, or is, holding the Taliban accountable for failing to include women in its government, rolling back their freedoms, and reports of violence directed toward protesters, including women, and reported violence against ethnic minorities. 

Afghanistan also faces an imminent humanitarian crisis, with questions over the safety of delivering needed resources but ensuring that aid workers are not harmed and supplies do not benefit the Taliban.