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US Secretary of State Blinken defends Afghan pullout

September 14, 2021

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the previous presidency left Joe Biden little choice but to complete the withdrawal. Republicans called it "an unmitigated disaster."

Antony Blinken visible on a TV screen in the House of Representatives, answering questions from the Foreign Affairs Committee via video link. 13.09.2021.
Blinken spoke to the committee via video link, in the first of two days of questioningImage: J. Scott Applewhite/AP/picture alliance

Antony Blinken on Monday fielded questions on Afghanistan at the House of Representatives' Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday. 

He sought to blame Donald Trump's deal with the Taliban for the US exit completed under Joe Biden, while arguing that a longer stay in the country would not have helped.

"We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan," Blinken said. He alleged that the February 2020 agreement to draw down international troop numbers in exchange for a series of assurances from the Taliban put the Islamist movement in "the strongest military position it had been since 9/11."

Why did the US not predict Afghan collapse?

Blinken said President Joe Biden and his staff were "intensely focused" on the safety of the country's citizens as US forces pulled out.

He added that the administration had "planned and exercised a wide range of contingencies" for what would come after the troop pullout which it was "constantly assessing."

But Blinken said that "even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while US forces remained."

A man pulls a girl to get inside Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul
The chaotic evacuation of thousands who helped the West caught global attentionImage: Reuters

He praised the "extraordinary effort" of the evacuation that airlifted 124,000 people from Kabul.

A committee member from the Republican party, Mike McCaul, called the end to the 20-year Afghanistan war "an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions."

"I never thought in my lifetime that I would see an unconditional surrender to the Taliban," he said.

Could the US have stayed for longer?

McCaul continued to interrogate Blinken by saying that Afghanistan "was now at the mercy of Taliban's reign of terror" and the "dark veil of sharia law."

A Republican colleague, Greg Steube, argued that the Trump accord with the Taliban had set conditions which were not kept, telling Blinken, "you can't blame the Trump administration for your failure."

But Blinken argued that when the Taliban violated the terms of the Trump deal, Biden would have had to send "substantially more" troops into the country to regain control.

"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, another five, another 10?" he asked rhetorically.

The Democrat who chairs the committee, Gregory Meeks, concluded that he did not believe it was possible to make "a smooth withdrawal from a messy, chaotic 20-year war."

Blinken will face questions on Afghanistan from the equivalent committee in the upper chamber of Congress, the Senate, on Tuesday.

Jawed Ludin on Conflict Zone

jc/msh (AFP, AP)