Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify next week before the House Foreign Affairs and Senate Foreign Relations committees on the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.
The hearings mark the first congressional inquiries into the chaotic U.S. troop withdrawal and scramble to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan refugees, which ended Aug. 31.
House and Senate members on both sides of the aisle have pressed the administration for insight into key decisions made leading up to and throughout the withdrawal that they say left the U.S. military flatfooted while the Taliban took control of the capital city.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, began calling for congressional oversight soon after Afghanistan fell to the Taliban.
“The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will continue fulfilling its oversight role with a hearing on U.S. policy towards Afghanistan, including the Trump administration‘s flawed negotiations with Taliban, and the Biden administration’s flawed execution of the U.S. withdrawal,” Mr. Menendez said in a statement in mid-August. “The Committee will seek a full accounting for these shortcomings as well as assess why the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces collapsed so quickly.”
“Congress was told repeatedly that the Afghan Defense and Security Forces were up to the task, that it had the troops, equipment and willingness to fight,” he continued. “To see this army dissolve so quickly after billions of dollars in U.S. support is astounding. The American and Afghan people clearly have not been told the truth about the ANDSF’s capacity and deserve answers.”
Others in Congress also began pressing for answers soon after the U.S.-backed Afghan government was overthrown by the Taliban,
In a letter sent to the White House in mid-August, Reps. Michael T. McCaul of Texas, Devin Nunes of California and Mike Rogers of Alabama, the top Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Armed Services committees said the “disaster that is now unfolding” in Afghanistan was avoidable.
The congressmen addressed specific questions to Mr. Biden in the letter, including what diplomatic footprint the administration intends to leave in Afghanistan going forward, how the military will confront terrorist groups emanating from the region, and how the administration will repair the U.S.’s “diminished International standing” after the tumultuous drawdown.
“The direness of the situation cannot be overstated, and there is no obfuscating press statement, briefing, or address that can hide where responsibility lies,” the lawmakers said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, later told reporters in San Francisco that Biden administration officials would testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee amid mounting concerns from lawmakers.
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory W. Meeks, New York Democrat, followed up Mrs. Pelosi’s remarks by saying he would schedule a hearing “as early as possible.”
But no hearing was scheduled with the House committee until Monday, despite a brief interruption to the House’s August recess to vote on a spending measure in late August.
Members of the Biden administration provided multiple classified and unclassified briefings for members of Congress throughout the withdrawal, but some said they walked away with more questions than answers.
Republican lawmakers, in particular, have continued their calls for accountability and for the administration to provide Congress with their plan to evacuate the more than 100 U.S. citizens that remain in the country.
Several lawmakers, including Republican Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Josh Hawley of Missouri, called on Mr. Biden and key members of his administration to resign in the wake of the suicide bombing that ripped through Kabul killing 13 U.S. service members in the last remaining days of the evacuation.
Other Republicans on the flanks of the party specifically called for Mr. Blinken to be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors” leading up to the chaotic withdrawal.
Republican Reps. Ralph Norman of South Carolina and Andy Harris of Maryland co-sponsored the impeachment resolution. They said “inexcusable failures” on behalf of Mr. Blinken led to the lives lost in the terrorist attack in Kabul and “set a horrible precedent on the international stage.”
While impeachment is not supported by Republican leadership and stands little chance of going forward with Democrats in control of both chambers, Mr. Blinken is likely to face tough questions during his testimony next week.
In particular, lawmakers are likely to raise questions over a July State Department “dissent” cable from 23 staffers stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul warning senior officials of Kabul’s potential for a swift collapse.
The confidential cable, which was leaked to the Wall Street Journal in mid-August, directly refuted the administration‘s remarks that the swift Taliban overthrow of the Afghan government and the resulting chaos was unforeseeable.
Several members of the Cabinet this summer had echoed President Biden’s remarks that a speedy Taliban takeover was unlikely after U.S. troops departed.