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Senate Excoriates Secretary of State for Withdrawal from Afghanistan

September 14, 2021 by Tom Ramstack
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., questions Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Jabin Botsford/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON — Senators who handle foreign relations hammered away at the U.S. secretary of state for a second day Tuesday for what they described as the disastrous military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

They criticized the lack of planning, the poor intelligence reports and the violent chaos at Kabul’s airport during the evacuation last month.

“The withdrawal was a debacle,” said Sen. James E. Risch, R-Idaho.

Perhaps the U.S. military had good intentions in trying to evacuate American citizens and Afghan allies who helped them during the 20-year war, but the way it was handled was “like an arsonist saving people from a burning building that he just set on fire,” Risch said.

After the war and occupation that started shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack, Afghanistan’s U.S.-supported government collapsed in 11 days as the Taliban took over while Americans departed. 

The Taliban refers to an extremist Islamic political and military organization that now controls Afghanistan’s government. U.S. forces left behind about $80 billion in military equipment, some of which could become part of the Taliban’s military.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said during the hearing Tuesday that they want to know what went wrong.

They mentioned as an example an Aug. 26 terrorist suicide bombing at Kabul’s airport that killed 13 U.S. military personnel and 169 Afghans.

“We need to know who’s in charge and who’s making these decisions,” Risch said.

President Joe Biden assumed responsibility for the withdrawal during nationally-televised speeches from the White House.

On Aug. 16, he said, “I stand squarely behind my decision. After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw U.S. forces.”

On Aug. 31, less than a day after a C-17 Air Force airplane roared off the runway at Kabul carrying the last American troops, Biden said, “I was not going to extend this forever war. And I was not going to extend a forever exit.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the president’s words and actions during the Senate hearing.

“It was time to end America’s longest war,” Blinken said.

Despite $2 trillion in U.S. taxpayer money spent on Afghanistan, 2,461 American lives lost and about 20,000 injured, the Taliban and other Islamic terrorist groups in the Middle East were regaining strength, he said.

“President Biden faced the choice of escalating the war or ending it,” Blinken said.

An escalation would result only in years more of conflict and “at best, the prospect of facing a stalemate,” Blinken said.

However, he acknowledged poor intelligence reports implying the U.S. could conduct a well-organized withdrawal while the Afghan government maintained order.

“What was not anticipated was the collapse in 11 days of the Afghan government and the Afghan military,” Blinken said.

Some Democrats agreed the time was right for the U.S. withdrawal but disagreed with the way it was managed.

‘Doing the right thing in the wrong way can be the wrong thing,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Several senators criticized members of the Biden administration who declined to testify at the hearing, most specifically Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“There has to be accountability,” Menendez said. “We need to understand why successive administrations made the same mistakes repeatedly.”

He also warned that the threat to Americans is unlikely to end with the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

“There is no such thing as a reformed Taliban,” he said.

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