Blinken's contentious hearing in House is lead-up to grilling before Senate
Amid support from Democrats who blamed the Afghanistan debacle on Trump, Republicans leveled accusations that Blinken was "tone deaf" and made "disgusting attempts" to claim credit for helping to evacuate American citizens.
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In a contentious appearance Monday before Congress to examine events in Afghanistan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken offered a glimpse of what is expected to be a pugnacious defense by the Biden administration of its actions in the chaotic U.S. exit last month from Kabul.
"We made the right decision in ending America's longest war," Blinken said in response to pointed and angry questions from lawmakers, some of whom called for him to resign, or displayed photographs of Americans who lost their lives in Afghanistan.
Blinken appeared via video link from the State Department before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, whose members attended both in person and remotely. The grueling hearing — marked by multiple Republican calls for Blinken's resignation — was the first of two sessions this week on Capitol Hill to examine how America arrived at its messy withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years at war.
The more than five-hour hearing served as a tough lead-up to what may be an even more aggressive grilling in the Senate on Tuesday, after lawmakers have had the opportunity to scrutinize the House questioning, and look for areas to probe.
Amid support on Monday from sympathetic Democrats who blamed the Afghanistan debacle on Trump, Republicans leveled accusations that Blinken was "tone deaf" and that he made "disgusting attempts" to claim credit for helping to evacuate American citizens.
Lawmakers pressed particularly for information on Americans who remain stranded "behind enemy lines," as do allies who will run afoul of extremist Taliban.
Blinken placed the residual number of Americans at "about 100," saying that some of them have agonized over whether to leave, because they have established their lives inside Afghanistan. Blinken was less certain on how many Afghans with Special Immigrant Visas remain inside the country or are waiting for their applications to be processed.
As the Monday hearing pressed on into the night, tempers flared.
At one point, Blinken was accused of inaccurately trying to portray State Department employees as having been endangered in August alongside American service members killed in an ISIS-K bomb attack outside the Kabul airport.
"I did not ride on anyone's coattails," Blinken fired back.
Blinken on Tuesday morning faces the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where members are expected to drill down on U.S. dealings with the Taliban, and on the details of why the U.S. relinquished Bagram Air Base and a valuable trove of high-powered weapons to Taliban control.
Senators are also expected to ask Blinken about foreign aid that the United States pledged to Shia-ruled Afghanisan.
The Biden Administration on Monday announced that the United States is providing nearly $64 million in new humanitarian assistance to Afghan people.
The funds are intended "to meet critical health and nutrition needs, address the protection concerns of women, children, and minorities, to help more children — including girls — go back to school," Blinken said in his opening statement on Monday. "This additional funding means the United States has provided nearly $330 million in assistance to the Afghan people this fiscal year."
Senators are expected to ask how the money will be delivered, and whether safeguards are in place to ensure that it is used for the intended purposes.