Anthony Blinken defends withdrawal from Afghanistan, citing Trump deal

On Monday, the top US diplomat defended the military withdrawal from Afghanistan, telling a House of Representatives committee that the Biden administration was bound by former President Donald Trump’s deal with the Taliban, and that his survival would have risked more American lives.

“The Taliban have made it very clear… that they will commit us to the deadline that the previous administration negotiated regarding the withdrawal of US forces,” Secretary of State Anthony Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

At the combative hearing, Republican committee members told Mr. Blinken that he should resign. They accused him and the Biden administration of betraying American soldiers, and manipulating intelligence into giving overly rosy expectations about the ability of the Afghan government and army to fend off the Taliban and surrender to the Taliban.

Taliban slogans replaced the activists’ murals, street vendors began selling the flag of the Islamic emirate, and protests erupted for several days in a row. Yaroslav Trofimov of the Wall Street Journal looks at the rapid transformation of Kabul after the fall of the republic. Photomontage: Michel Inez-Simon

“The Biden administration’s incompetent withdrawal has left America and the world a much less safe place, 20 years after 9/11,” Representative Ann Wagner said. One of its voters was among 13 US soldiers killed in the August 26 terrorist attack at Kabul airport.

Democrats on the committee criticized the Trump administration over the February 2020 agreement with the Taliban, but many also criticized the implementation of the withdrawal.

“Yes, the majority of the American people wanted to leave Afghanistan but not like that,” said Representative Steve Chabot (R., Ohio).

Rep. Brad Sherman (D., California) said efforts by Afghan elites to flee the country before the Taliban took power led to a “scramble” preventing the Biden administration from implementing an orderly exit.

Mr. Blinken said that the United States had long achieved its goals in Afghanistan, including weakening the ability of the terrorist al-Qaeda terrorist organization to strike the United States, and that staying longer would not lead to a different outcome.

“One lesson is that while we are very effective in dealing with and eliminating terrorist threats to our country, which we have done with great success in Afghanistan, the idea of ​​using military force to rebuild a society is something that is beyond our means and our capabilities,” Mr. Blinken said.

The secretary told the committee that the administration had coordinated its withdrawal plans with US allies, and expedited processing of special immigrant visas for Afghans who helped the US government and made extraordinary efforts to evacuate Americans and others. He said the State Department has repeatedly urged US citizens to leave the country and offered assistance to do so, sending letters 19 times starting in March.

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He said about 100 US citizens who still want to leave remain in Afghanistan.

Mr. Blinken was repeatedly attacked by lawmakers who were veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Representative Ronnie Jackson (R., Texas) criticized Mr. Blinken for giving the State Department credit for its work at Kabul airport alongside the Marines who died in a suicide bombing there.

“You have tried to act as if you did nothing wrong, and there is an ongoing effort at the State Department to pat your back,” said Mr. Jackson, the former White House physician to Trump and Barack Obama. . “Most Americans at this very point do not appreciate your approach to the deaf.”

With the House not in session on Monday, most lawmakers and Mr. Blinken, a former congressional aide, appeared via the video link. In answering the questions, he sometimes seemed to be talking about deputies, from whom he interrupted repeatedly. The emotional five-hour hearing contrasted with earlier appearances, when Republican lawmakers seemed more respectful of Mr. Blinken.

Mr. Blinken is also scheduled to testify Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Administration officials said contacts with the Taliban are limited to logistical and security matters and do not indicate official recognition of the legitimacy of Taliban rule. US and foreign leaders continue to urge the Taliban to respect the rights of women, ethnic minorities, and members of other vulnerable groups, even as reports of human rights abuses by the group grow.

The inclusion of members of the terrorist-designated Haqqani network in the newly formed government further complicates the US situation.

Mr. Blinken said the administration did not anticipate how quickly the Afghan government and security forces would fall. “Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict the collapse of government forces in Kabul while the American forces remain,” he said.

Administration officials said they are constantly working on more evacuations, and negotiating with foreign partners, such as Qatar and the Taliban, to get more Americans and Afghans out of the country.

Mr. Blinken told the committee that the administration would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the Afghan people — including nearly $64 million announced on Monday — to be managed by NGOs and the United Nations.

Afghanistan under the Taliban

write to Courtney McBride at courtney.mcbride@wsj.com and William Mauldin at william.mauldin@wsj.com

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