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Blinken faces demand for resignation in acrimonious start to Afghanistan debacle review

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A hearing billed as the first part of a major evaluation of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan featured criticism of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and calls for his resignation.

“Your bizarre abandoning of Bagram Airfield led directly to 13 Marines murdered in Kabul,” Rep. Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican, told Blinken after endorsing a newspaper editorial that accused President Joe Biden of telling “six lies” about Afghanistan. “You should resign. I yield back.”

Blinken declined to acknowledge Wilson’s criticisms, merely thanking him for praising the quality of the State Department’s diplomatic corps instead. Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat, came to Blinken's defense by recalling Wilson’s infamous interruption of President Barack Obama's 2010 State of the Union address.

“If I were the member of Congress who committed one of those grievous acts in a State of the Union address — when the president of the United States, Mr. Obama, was our guest, to shout out, ‘You lie,’ — I might take more care about enumerating other alleged lies in a hearing with the secretary of state,” Connolly said.

‘THOUSANDS’ OF LAWFUL US RESIDENTS LEFT IN AFGHANISTAN, BLINKEN SAYS IN TESTIMONY

That exchange reflected the pattern of the hearing: Most Republicans attacked Blinken, while most Democrats defended him. Blinken, for his part, sought to pin the blame for the troubled withdrawal — which a prominent German politician called "the greatest debacle that NATO has seen since its foundation" — on former President Donald Trump’s approach to negotiating the U.S.-Taliban peace deal that set the stage for the U.S. withdrawal.

“We inherited a deadline,” Blinken said, referring to the May 1 withdrawal deadline inked in the deal. “We did not inherit a plan.”

Blinken criticized that deal throughout his appearance.

“As part of that agreement, the previous administration pressed the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners — including some top war commanders. Meanwhile, it reduced our own force presence to 2,500 troops,” he said in his opening statement. "By January 2021, the Taliban was in the strongest military position it had been in since 9/11 — and we had the smallest number of troops on the ground since 2001.”

The deal was negotiated by State Department special representative Zalmay Khalilzad, a Trump appointee whom Blinken decided to retain as point man for the Afghanistan peace process after Biden took office.

“It's important to remind people, the Trump administration failed in the setup, and I think the Biden administration absolutely failed in the execution of this,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican.

Blinken faced numerous rebukes for the loss of U.S. military equipment, which he countered by observing the Taliban don’t have the skills to use that technology.

“Much of it, based on what I understand from my colleagues at [the Defense Department], is inoperable or soon will become inoperable because it has to be maintained,” he said.

That statement dovetails with a related criticism that Biden crippled the Afghan military by withdrawing the U.S. mechanics who maintain their warplanes, even as he argued the U.S. could withdraw without fearing a Taliban takeover because of the central government’s advantage in air power.

“We had built [the Afghan] military in our own image, that relied on airpower, that relied on logistics, and then we pulled our logistics and airpower support from the Afghan military,” Kinzinger said.

While Blinken said the rapidity of the Taliban takeover caught the Biden team by surprise, one of his allies implied U.S. officials foresaw the possibility.

“I sat in many hearings, sat in many classified and open briefings, as we were looking at various scenarios of what that withdrawal looks like, what the capabilities of the Afghan government were,” said Rep. Ami Bera, a California Democrat. "And unfortunately, the worst-case scenario played out, and the images that we saw coming out of Afghanistan were painful, frankly, in the last few weeks of August.”

For the most part, the hearing was a return to forming a committee that had a tempestuous relationship with Blinken’s predecessor. It was a role reversal for lawmakers who faced off last year with then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a hearing so acrimonious that Kinzinger marveled that Democrats were so eager to interrupt Pompeo, they thwarted their own lines of questioning.

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Rep. Lee Zeldin, a New York Republican, echoed Wilson’s denunciation of Blinken.

“This was fatally flawed, poorly executed — we had the loss of U.S. service members as a result,” Zeldin told Blinken. “What we should have done was tell the Taliban that we’re going to leave Afghanistan when we’re done bringing every last American home ... And I believe that you, sir, should resign. That would be leadership.”

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Tags: News, Foreign Policy, National Security, Antony Blinken, Lee Zeldin, Adam Kinzinger, Foreign Affairs, Afghanistan, Taliban

Original Author: Joel Gehrke

Original Location: Blinken faces demand for resignation in acrimonious start to Afghanistan debacle review

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