Senators on Tuesday grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan which Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. called “fatally flawed.”
Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, pledged to hold the Biden administration accountable for the U.S. exit from Afghanistan as Blinken testified before Congress for the second consecutive day.
“The execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed,” Menendez said in his opening remarks. “This committee expects to receive a full explanation of the administration’s decisions on Afghanistan since coming into office last January. There has to be accountability.”
Blinken continued to defend President Joe Biden‘s decision to withdraw U.S. troops and end the 20-year war with Afghanistan, saying no one in the government expected Afghan forces to surrender to the Taliban so quickly, allowing the militant group to take control of the country.
“Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained,” Blinken said. “They were focused on what would happen after the United States withdrew, from September onward.”
Blinken added that the administration began planning for a “worst-case scenario” in the spring and summer, including contingency plans for evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Kabul within 48 hours and establishing control over Kabul International Airport.
He testified Tuesday that 2,400 U.S. troops would not have been enough to prevent Afghanistan from falling to the Taliban and that the administration would have had to surge a significant number of troops to combat the collapse.
Following the collapse, Blinken said the State Department and Pentagon orchestrated “an extraordinary effort” to evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan allies in the two weeks before troops were fully withdrawn.
Blinken said the State Department is “still tabulating” the number of Special Immigrant Visa applicants who need to leave Afghanistan and added that “thousands” of American green-card holders remain in the country.
In response to a question by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, about why the administration could not push the withdrawal date beyond Aug. 31 to process SIV applicants, Blinken said, “We took some risks,” and that the timing was largely a military consideration.
“They worked around the clock to get American citizens, Afghans who helped us, citizens of our allies and partners, and at-risk Afghans on planes out of the country,” Blinken said. “In the end, we completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety.”