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'We made the right decision': In contentious hearing, Blinken adamantly defends Afghanistan pullout

In the first of two sessions this week on Capitol Hill, Blinken faced tough questions about the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years.

Updated: September 13, 2021 - 4:49pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Secretary of State Antony Blinken adamantly stood by the Biden Administration's actions surrounding the chaotic August withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

"We made the right decision in ending America's longest war," Blinken said in response to aggressive questioning from Rep. Ann Wagner (R-MO). "We made the right decision in not sending a third generation of Americans to fight and die in Afghanistan. We did the right thing by our citizens and working feverishly to get every one of them out we did the right thing by 125,000 Afghans, but to bring them to safety, and now we're working to do the right thing to hold the Taliban to the expectations of the international community to ensure people can continue to travel freely, to ensure that the rights of Afghans are upheld."

Blinken made his remarks of Monday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the first of two sessions this week on Capitol Hill in which he is expected to face tough questions about the United States' messy withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years.

Elsewhere during the session that saw the secretary grilled by lawmakers, Blinken would not respond to direct questioning on Monday about a purported July 23 phone call from President Joe Biden advising former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to be untruthful about Taliban gains in the embattled country.

Citing a Reuters report that President Biden told his counterpart that "there's a need, whether it be true or not ... to project a different picture" about the Taliban, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) asked Blinken: "Was that an ad lib by President Biden, or was that lie scripted into the phone call?"

The exchange took place Monday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, the first of two sessions this week on Capitol Hill in which Blinken is expected to face tough questions about the United States' messy withdrawal from Afghanistan after 20 years.  

"I'm not commenting on any purportedly leaked transcripts," Blinken said in response to Smith. "I'm telling you what, based on my knowledge of the conversation the president said, and what he said is exactly what he said in public."

In his opening statement on Monday, Blinken defended the Biden Administration's handling of the chaotic exit last month from Afghanistan.

"There's no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining," Blinken said. "If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or ten, make a difference?" 

The nation long ago achieved its objectives in Afghanistan, Blinken said.

"Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011," he testified. "Al Qaeda's capabilities were degraded significantly, including its ability to plan and conduct external operations. After 20 years, 2,641 American lives lost, 20,000 injuries, and two trillion dollars spent, it was time to end America's longest war."

American troops and more than 100,000 people hastily left Afghanistan before an Aug. 31 deadline, about two weeks after the Taliban seized control of the country's government.

Several days before the August deadline, a terrorist suicide bomber killed 13 U.S. service members evacuating Americans, Afghan allies and others outside the international airport in the capital city of Kabul.

Blinken is set to testify Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. 

The Biden administration says it airlifted 124,000 people out of the country. However, many vulnerable Afghans have reportedly been left behind.

The hearing is set to be the first of many oversight efforts from lawmakers eager for answers from the State Department as well as the Department of Defense about the rushed withdrawal and the administration's plans to assist allies who worked alongside the military.

In his opening remarks, Blinken largely blamed the Trump administration for stalling the processing of the Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) given to former interpreters and others that assisted the military, along with their families. 

Blinken's entire opening statement can be viewed here.

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