Angry Dems, GOP clash over Afghanistan 

September 14, 2021 - 18:17

TEHRAN- The U.S. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has appeared before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, making him the first official from the administration of President Joe Biden to testify publicly to lawmakers since the Taliban takeover.

Biden’s testimonies to Congress this week kicked off at the House then the Senate, in what could be a long series of high-intensity hearings about the chaotic end to America’s longest war. 

With plenty of finger-pointing going around, over how the two-decade-long war ended, lots of fireworks are expected at the hearings. Some Republicans already called on Present Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and Blinken all to resign.

Blinked defended Biden’s withdrawal during five hours of heated exchanges at the first congressional hearing where at least two Republicans have called on him to resign from office. Instead the U.S. Secretary of State blamed the Trump administration for lacking a real plan over America disastrous military withdrawal from Afghanistan. 

Many Republicans, particularly those closely allied to former President Donald Trump, interrupted or even shouted over Blinken during the House hearing, a sharp shift from the committee’s usually bipartisan cooperation.

Blinken dismissed accusations that the State Department should have done more to help Americans and at-risk Afghans to be evacuated. He repeatedly noted that former Republican President Trump had negotiated the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, and said Biden's administration could not renegotiate because of threats from the group to resume attacking Americans.

The top American diplomat said "there's no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining"

"We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan," Blinken said, referring to the Trump administration's agreement to remove all U.S. forces from Afghanistan by May 1.

Members of Congress, both Democrats and opposition Republicans, have pledged to investigate the withdrawal since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last month after a rapid advance.

The panel's top Republican, Representative Michael McCaul, was among those that offered harsh criticism saying "the American people don't like to lose, especially not to the terrorists. But this is exactly what has happened". 

McCaul questioned why assets like the Bagram Air Base were not maintained and why the administration had not reached counterterrorism agreements with neighboring countries.

McCaul warmed the hearing "this is a national security threat as China moves in. For all I know they make take over Bagram”

Blinken said his department was actively working to identify any potential threats.

The Congress Members asked a long list of questions regarding the sudden collapse of the former Afghan government and the hectic evacuation of some 124,000 people.

Democrats expressed concern about Americans and at-risk Afghans who still wish to leave. 

However, they backed the withdrawal as necessary, even if it was painful. The committee's chairman Representative Gregory Meeks pointed out that he “would welcome hearing [from republicans] what exactly a smooth withdrawal from a messy chaotic 20-year war looks like”. 

Blinken praised the evacuation claiming it was "a heroic effort." He pledged that the United States will continue to support humanitarian aid to Afghanistan but not through the Taliban, only through non-governmental organizations and UN agencies. 

Afghanistan was already at risk of running out of food as it faced a devastating drought before the political upheaval even began. 

"We need to do everything we can to make sure the people of Afghanistan don't suffer any more than is already the case," Blinken said.

In a pre-prepared statement made public to the media, Biden admitted “consistent with sanctions, this aid will not flow through the government, but rather through independent organizations like NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and U.N. agencies”. 

He also rejected speaking personally to any members of the Taliban leadership for the time being saying “any legitimacy that they may seek from the international community... is going to be contingent on their actions”. 

Before the questioning began a Senate aide said “we expect a confrontational hearing”. Members of Congress promised a long list of questions about the rapid collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government. 

In a written reply to a request for comment on the hearing McCaul said “I imagine there will be a lot of questions on what decisions were being made leading up to the withdrawal, including why the White House pressed DOD (the Defense Department) to withdraw troops before we evacuated American civilians and our Afghan partners”. 

Democrats had always maintained they wanted the hearing to address not just the seven months Biden was president before Kabul was captured by the Taliban but all 20 years of U.S. involvement in the country, under presidents from both parties.

Senator Chris Murphy says he fears “that Republicans are going to turn this into a circus and try to put the blame on Joe Biden for 20 years’ worth of mistakes in Afghanistan”.

Murphy, a Democratic member of the foreign relations panel, also told reporters “the real question is why did we stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years after we knew that there was going to be no way we could build an Afghan military, an Afghan government that was capable of holding the country against the Taliban once we left”. 

Another committee Democrat, Senator Chris Van Hollen, noted that Trump had pushed to get out of Afghanistan even more quickly and criticized Biden for remaining as long as he did.

“It’s a little hard to take and listen to Republican colleagues who strongly supported the Trump decisions to now be attacking President Biden for decisions that they had previously supported” he said.

A U.S.-led invasion toppled the Taliban in 2001 after the September 11 attacks. Washington accused the Taliban of providing a safe haven for al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and used the pretext to invade the country and topple the Taliban. 

20 years later, the Taliban returned to power with many Americans asking who exactly benefited from the trillions of dollars spent on the war?

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