Senators are outraged and want answers about how the US military is leaving Afghanistan and how the refugee problem is being handled.
Senators upset with the Biden administration’s handling of the US departure from Afghanistan expressed their displeasure with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken on Tuesday.
“The execution of the US withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed,” Senator Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Blinken during a committee hearing.
Menendez said the committee would pursue a “full explanation” of the administration’s decisions on Afghanistan since US President Joe Biden came into office in January.
“There has to be accountability,” said Menendez, who argued the Biden administration “clearly fell short” of its stated goal of leaving “a durable political arrangement” in Afghanistan.
Nearly 20 years after invading Afghanistan in 2001 following the September 11 al-Qaeda attacks, the US military completed its withdrawal from the country on August 30.
Thousands of Afghans flocked to Kabul’s airport after the Taliban gained control of the Afghan capital, seeking to flee the country amid concerns of retaliation from the Taliban.
At least 175 people were killed at the Kabul airport, including 13 US service members, in a suicide strike claimed by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K).
Afghanistan is currently experiencing a humanitarian catastrophe, as food and medicine supplies are running out, putting millions of people at risk.
Senator James Risch, the panel’s top Republican, described the US withdrawal as a “dismal failure” and accused the Biden administration of “ineptness.”
“One of the things we need to get to the bottom of is, who’s responsible for this? Who made the decisions?” said Risch, who had been chairman of the committee when former President Donald Trump negotiated the US withdrawal agreement with the Taliban in 2020.
“While I supported a responsible end to the war in Afghanistan, no American thinks we should have left this way. America cannot end a war simply by walking away,” Risch said.
Military officials to be called to testify
The Senate hearing’s critical tone portends difficulty for the Biden administration as it tries to recover from a rough month in which the president’s poll numbers have dropped.
It also highlights the administration’s potential challenges in negotiating with the Taliban and managing the situation in Afghanistan with US allies.
Menendez announced on Tuesday that he intended to ask US military leaders to testify before the committee, and expressed regret that US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin had declined to attend.
“A full accounting of the US response to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon, especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the US-trained and funded Afghan military,” Menendez said.
He also threatened to issue subpoenas to witnesses and to hold back Senate confirmation of Defense Department political nominees. During 20 years of US involvement in Afghanistan, “Congress has been misled”, Menendez said.
Senator Rand Paul, who sought to know whether the US military inadvertently attacked an aid worker in a drone attack on August 29, grilled Blinken even more.
Until the results of a US inquiry were known, Blinken couldn’t tell whether the target was an aid worker. Residents said the AFP news agency that ten civilians, including many children, were killed in the US operation.
“I see these pictures of these beautiful children that were killed in the attack,” said Paul. “You can’t have an investigation after you kill people,” he said. “You have an investigation before you kill people.”
Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican, suggested Blinken should resign. “We have a very significant failure here, a failure of global proportion,” he said.
Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat and political ally of President Joe Biden, also challenged Blinken on why the administration had not been better prepared for a collapse of the US-backed government in Kabul.
“The contingency planning for something that was a possibility, wasn’t all that it should have been,” Kaine said.
US diplomats in Afghanistan had warned Blinken in a secret cable in July of a potential fall of the Afghan government in Kabul, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal newspaper.
Source: AL JAZEERA