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Blinken to Face Senators’ Questions on Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken defended the Biden administration’s dealing with of its withdrawal from Afghanistan throughout Senate testimony on Tuesday, at the same time as prime intelligence officers individually reported that Al Qaeda might rebuild within the nation in a year or two — a shorter timeline than that they had estimated earlier than the Taliban seized management.

After greater than 5 hours of House testimony on Monday, Mr. Blinken appeared in individual earlier than the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, once more conceding no fault as Republicans denounced President Biden’s withdrawal as “the worst foreign policy catastrophe in my lifetime,” as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas put it.

But when pressed a couple of lethal drone strike in Kabul final month on a car that U.S. officers thought contained an Islamic State bomb, Mr. Blinken conceded that he was uncertain of what had occurred. New York Times reporting has raised doubts in regards to the navy’s model of occasions, together with whether or not explosives have been within the car and whether or not the driving force had a connection to the Islamic State.


“The guy that the Biden administration droned — was he an aid worker or an ISIS-K operative?” requested Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, referring to the Afghan department of the Islamic State.

“I don’t know, because we’re reviewing it,” Mr. Blinken replied. The Pentagon has defended the strike however continues to examine.

The day amounted to an uncomfortable homecoming for Mr. Blinken, who served as the highest Democratic employees member on the panel when Mr. Biden, then a Delaware senator, was its rating member and chairman some 20 years in the past. As on Monday, the secretary of state was courteous and dispassionate, and his delicate method appeared to frustrate some Republican senators.

“OK, I got it,” Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, mentioned at one level, interrupting one among Mr. Blinken’s usually methodical solutions. “It’s bureaucratic speak.”

Mr. Blinken once more argued that the Biden administration was strategically smart to withdraw from Afghanistan after a draining 20-year occupation — but in addition that it was sure by a peace settlement that the Trump administration had struck with the Taliban committing to an exit.

He additionally insisted that the State Department had deliberate responsibly for the withdrawal, based mostly on intelligence suggesting that the Afghan authorities might maintain out for months with out U.S. navy assist. The division responded successfully when the federal government all of a sudden fell to the Taliban final month, he mentioned.

The secretary of state additionally famous that he had quadrupled the variety of employees members assigned to expedite particular immigrant visas for Afghans who labored with U.S. forces in Afghanistan and who may be liable to Taliban reprisals. He additionally identified that the Trump administration had halted interviews with visa candidates in Kabul in March 2020, after the coronavirus started to unfold. “The program was basically in a stall,” Mr. Blinken mentioned.

But committee members mentioned that the Biden administration had failed to adequately plan for the Afghan authorities’s collapse, and that it ought to have waited to withdraw till extra Americans and at-risk Afghans could possibly be relocated.

Mr. Blinken mentioned that the administration’s worst-case planning started “in the spring and summer,” with interagency conferences coordinated by the White House.

“In the end, we completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety,” he mentioned.

Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, challenged Mr. Blinken’s chorus that the administration was obliged to withdraw quickly due to the Trump administration’s settlement with the Taliban, which set a May 1 exit date. Mr. Biden ordered all troops to go away by Aug. 31 — after initially saying a Sept. 11 deadline — and has mentioned that staying longer would have invited assaults by the Taliban, which had agreed underneath the deal not to assault withdrawing U.S. forces.

Mr. Romney requested Mr. Blinken why U.S. troops couldn’t have stayed previous Aug. 31, if the Biden administration had been prepared to prolong the May 1 deadline.

“Why didn’t you push it much later?” Mr. Romney mentioned, on condition that “you knew that there was no way you were going to get all these people out in time.”

The navy had advised the president that it wanted three to 4 months to withdraw from Afghanistan “in a safe and orderly way,” Mr. Blinken replied. He added that the administration had incurred threat of assaults by staying so long as it did.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, accused the administration of setting an arbitrary deadline for political functions. “We wanted to be out by Sept. 11 so that we could have some ceremony arguing that we’d pulled out of Afghanistan on the anniversary of 9/11,” he mentioned.

The new intelligence evaluation doesn’t drastically differ from earlier warnings by U.S. officers, together with a Pentagon estimate this year that Al Qaeda might reconstitute in Afghanistan in two years. But it displays revised assumptions on condition that the Taliban have little capacity to management Afghanistan’s borders.

“The current assessment probably conservatively is one to two years for Al Qaeda to build some capability to at least threaten the homeland,” Lt. Gen. Scott D. Berrier, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, mentioned on the annual Intelligence and National Security Summit on Tuesday.

The new timeline didn’t come up at Mr. Blinken’s listening to, however the question of the terrorist risk to the United States from a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan did. When requested by Mr. Rubio about longstanding ties between the Taliban and Al Qaeda, Mr. Blinken conceded that “the relationship has not been severed, and it’s a very open question as to whether their views and the relationship has changed in any kind of definitive way.”

Several Republicans complained about U.S. navy tools equipped to the Afghan safety forces that fell into the arms of the Taliban. In pictures posted on-line, Taliban fighters have proven off American-made Humvees, helicopters, uniforms, physique armor, rifles and night-vision goggles.

Mr. Blinken famous that departing U.S. troops had rendered a few of the tools inoperable, that different gadgets would quickly cease working with out upkeep, and that the remainder introduced “no strategic threat to us or any of Afghanistan’s neighbors.”

He additionally mentioned he would quickly appoint a senior State Department official to oversee points particularly relating to girls in Afghanistan, whose rights could also be severely curtailed underneath the Taliban’s radical interpretation of Islam.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Blinken urged the Senate to transfer quicker towards confirming Biden officers, together with 80 State Department nominees. He known as it “essential that we accelerate the process for national security appointments, since a catastrophic attack could occur with little or no notice.”

But Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, mentioned in a flooring speech that he would delay key nominees for the Defense and State Departments until Mr. Blinken, together with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III and Jake Sullivan, the nationwide safety adviser, resign over the chaotic exit from Afghanistan.

While most Republicans portrayed the withdrawal as “an epic failure, with no planning, no strategy,” within the phrases of Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, Democrats rose to the administration’s protection.

“It is heartbreaking, what happened,” mentioned Senator Christopher S. Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut. But he added that there was no avoiding a chaotic withdrawal by merely pondering “if we had just had better execution, we could have avoided this panic and confusion.”


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