Republicans are planning to capitalize on their first shot to grill Secretary of State Antony Blinken over President Joe Biden’s botched U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan when he testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee Monday afternoon and the panel’s Senate counterpart Tuesday.
Republicans lambasted the State Department’s failed efforts to evacuate all Americans and Afghan allies before Biden caved to the Taliban and pulled out all U.S. troops by August 31, including those helping get U.S. citizens out.
Blinken will face the “most aggressive questioning of his career,” Axios predicted on Sunday.
The news outlet interviewed lawmakers and staff about what they plan to ask the top U.S. diplomat in charge of the evacuation efforts that left 13 American troops dead, 18 wounded, and scores of Afghan casualties.
Republicans see the hearings as their first chance to directly confront a top-ranking Biden official about the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Democrats see it as a moment in which they must reject GOP efforts to blame President Biden for 20 years of bipartisan mistakes.
Last month, Blinken admitted the Biden administration does not know precisely how many Americans are still stranded and the number of U.S. evacuees, stressing that State Department estimates are “dynamic.”
Still, he said last Tuesday that “about 100” remain in Afghanistan, contradicting estimates pointing to a larger number.
Republicans told Axios they would cross-examine Blinken to get an exact tally of Americans and allies who remain trapped in Afghanistan and how the Biden administration plans two get them out, adding:
They want to know the specific breakdown of those who have gotten out (special visa holders, “at risk” individuals, etc.) and the vetting process for the crush of evacuees who were airlifted.
Expect them to raise concerns about convicted criminals or members of terrorist watch lists among the evacuees — and to cite a particularly harrowing AP story about “child brides” trafficked to the U.S. during the chaos.
Republicans also plan to interrogate Blinken about the American military equipment, including weapons, that ended up in the Taliban’s hands after it was left behind when American troops and America’s consular presence rushed out of Afghanistan.
They will also grill Blinken on whether Biden plans to recognize the interim Taliban government shared by high-profile figures linked to the terrorist group, including the leader of the al-Qaeda-linked Haqqani Network and an FBI-wanted terrorist.
Blinken ignored warnings from the U.S. intelligence community, including components within his department, that Afghanistan’s collapse was probable. The Taliban takeover seemingly took the State Department by surprise.
Blinken will testify in the wake of reports from private rescue organizers and even Democrat Sen. Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut that the State Department is delaying some chartered flights trying to leave Afghanistan with Americans onboard.
The Trump administration negotiated the U.S.-Taliban peace deal after pressuring the jihadis to engage in talks to end the war with an aggressive airstrike campaign.
President Biden, who rescinded as many Trump-era policies as possible, chose to move forward with the U.S.-Taliban agreement.