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Congress grills top US diplomat over debacle

China Daily | Updated: 2021-09-16 09:23
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, Sept 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. [Photo/Agencies]

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was roasted by the US Congress on Tuesday as lawmakers from both sides grilled him over his role in the botched evacuations from Afghanistan.

The administration of US President Joe Biden has been roundly criticized by Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as by the media and analysts, as some US citizens and Afghans who worked with the US remain stranded in Afghanistan after the superpower's chaotic withdrawal.

Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of Biden's own Democratic Party, castigated Blinken on Tuesday, the top diplomat's second day of intense questioning by outraged lawmakers.

The execution of the US troop withdrawal was "clearly and fatally flawed", Menendez said in his opening remarks at the hearing. "There has to be accountability."

Republican Senator James Risch, the ranking member of the committee, argued that "the Biden administration alone is responsible for this debacle and its consequences".

Blinken firmly pushed back against the criticisms and blamed the administration of Biden's predecessor Donald Trump for leaving the Western-backed government in a bad situation.

The US and the Afghan Taliban signed an agreement in February 2020 that called for a full withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan by May 2021 if the Taliban met the conditions of the deal.

"We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan," Blinken told the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday.

He also noted that no one in the US government had foreseen how quickly Afghan security forces would collapse, which led to the Taliban militants taking over the nation in a matter of days.

Senator Rand Paul, a Republican who spent a decade pushing for US forces to leave Afghanistan, said: "Never in my worst nightmares did anyone conceive such a colossal incompetence."

The New York Times reported that a man who worked for a US aid group, Zemari Ahmadi, and nine members of his family-including seven children-were killed in a US airstrike on Aug 29.

Paul also quizzed Blinken about the strike against the group known as Islamic State Khorasan. Blinken declined to comment, saying the issue is being reviewed.

"You'd think that you'd kind of know before you off somebody with a predator drone, whether he's an aid worker or he's an ISIS-K," he said, referring to an Afghanistan-based offshoot of Islamic State.

'Smashing' success?

Blinken said the Pentagon and his State Department put together an "extraordinary effort" to evacuate US citizens and Afghan allies before the remaining US forces pulled out last month.

Republican Senator Ron Johnson chastised the administration for behaving as if the withdrawal was a resounding success.

"If I were just to read your testimony not having watched any news I would literally think this was a smashing success," Johnson said.

"But I do read the news, as most Americans do, and we realize that this was a complete debacle. I think what concerns me the most, among many things, is that detachment from reality."

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen acknowledged that the situation in Afghanistan resulted from the failure of both Democratic and Republican administrations.

"I do think we need an accounting. That's important for history and for us going forward, but let's stop with the hypocrisy about who's to blame. There are a lot of people to blame, and we all share in it," she said.

Blinken is the first senior administration official to testify in the wake of the chaotic withdrawal. Several Republican lawmakers had called on Blinken to resign.

A poll conducted last month by the Pew Research Center showed only 26 percent of respondents believe the Biden administration handled the Afghanistan situation well, 42 percent said it did a poor job, and 29 percent deemed it only a fair job.

Xinhua and Heng Weili in New York contributed to this story.

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