Blinken hearing: Republican shows photos of dead marines and accuses secretary of state of treason

Blinken hearing: Republican shows photos of dead marines and accuses secretary of state of treason
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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was grilled by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which saw tens of thousands of people evacuated from the country in short order as it fell to the Taliban at unexpected speed.

The president and his aides have blamed the now-collapsed Afghan government and army for giving in to the Taliban as it marched across the country, but critics on both sides of the aisle accuse the administration of “giving up” on the Afghan people and Americans working on the ground there, as well as Afghan translators and workers who helped the US in its two-decade mission. They now face violent reprisal from the Taliban, which is already committing human rights abuses and radically curtailing women’s freedoms in particular.

The US this weekend marked the two-decade anniversary of 9/11, the event that precipitated the Afghan invasion – and which Joe Biden set as his deadline for pulling all US troops out.

Read more:

Key Points

  • Antony Blinken will testify to the House of Representatives this afternoon

  • Joe Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal is still a matter of extreme contention in both parties

  • Ongoing terror threat from groups in Afghanistan has raised serious worries in US

Good morning

Monday 13 September 2021 11:33 , Andrew Naughtie

Welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of Antony Blinken’s Afghanistan testimony. Stay with us for the latest updates.

Who are the Taliban?

Monday 13 September 2021 11:38 , Andrew Naughtie

Before the appalling scenes that unfolded at Kabul airport began last month, the rest of Afghanistan saw the Taliban seize power at astonishing speed – apparently much faster than the Biden administration or US intelligence had expected.

Now that the extremist group is once again in charge of the country it once ruled according to its draconian interpretation of Islamic law, the world is reminding itself of who the Taliban really are. Joe Sommerlad has this explainer.

Who are the Taliban and how have they taken control of Afghanistan?

Key Biden critics on panel include Afghanistan veteran

Monday 13 September 2021 12:10 , Andrew Naughtie

Among those on the House panel to which Antony Blinken is testifying is Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman who served in Afghanistan as a US Air Force pilot. An outspoken critic of Donald Trump, he is also one of his party’s most intense critics of the Afghan withdrawal – both its execution and the fact the US has pulled out in the first place.

In particular, he is angry at the fate of Americans left behind now the main evacuation is complete.

Biden’s predecessor calls him a ‘fool’ – despite initiating withdrawal himself

Monday 13 September 2021 12:35 , Andrew Naughtie

Donald Trump this weekend laid into Joe Biden for his handling of the Afghan withdrawal, a policy that was in fact initiated by his own administration.

In a message released on the anniversary of 9/11, the sometime president declared: “The leader of our country was made to look like a fool and that can never be allowed to happen.”

Mr Trump’s Afghan policy has come under severe scrutiny since the Taliban marched through the country’s major cities. Particularly contentious is the negotiated release of 5,000 Taliban members from prison in exchange for 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces.

Trump slams Biden as a ‘fool’ over Afghanistan in video message to mark 9/11

Collateral damage?

Monday 13 September 2021 13:30 , Andrew Naughtie

The use of drones to attack ground targets in Afghanistan (and beyond) has been controversial for years, and a recent strike is proving just as contentious.

According to a disturbing New York Times report, the driver of a car struck by a drone near Kabul airport at the end of last month may not have had any connection to the Isis-K terror group, and that the vehicle may not have been carrying a bomb at all.

Read more here:

Man killed by US drone strike in Kabul may have been aid worker targeted in error

Afghan withdrawal shakes up Republican Party politics

Monday 13 September 2021 14:04 , Andrew Naughtie

The Trump years saw the Republican Party shift its thinking on military intervention away from aggressive action and towards something approaching isolationism. The 45th president was an opponent of expending American blood and treasure on what he thought of as other people’s wars; instead, he threatened to withhold funding from NATO and other allies in order to extract concessions and compliance while pulling US troops out of places where they had been serving for years or decades.

This has left the pro-Trump GOP mainstream somewhat confused about how to react to the Afghan withdrawal – and how to use it as an issue in the 2024 presidential campaign if Mr Trump doesn’t run.

Tom Rogan has this analysis.

How the Afghanistan withdrawal has shaken the Republican Party’s 2024 race

Ilhan Omar on drone attacks

Monday 13 September 2021 14:30 , Andrew Naughtie

One of the most prominent questioners Mr Blinken will face is Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a member of the so-called “squad” of young progressive representatives who have earned themselves a national platform.

Ms Omar, who was herself a child refugee from Somalia, has been an outspoken critic of the US’s Afghanistan policy in general. She recently hit out at the Biden administration over a drone attack at the end of August that killed 10 people, including seven children.

Who can leave Afghanistan now?

Monday 13 September 2021 14:53 , Andrew Naughtie

It was only a few days ago that the first commercial flight to leave Afghanistan since the Taliban’s takeover. The Qatar Airways flight bound for Doha was reportedly full of westerners, many of them American civilians. Its departure was assured after intense negotiations between the Taliban and Washington.

Read more here:

Dozens escape Kabul on first commercial flight out since withdrawal

Report: Republicans “making this as much of a Benghazi as they possibly can"

Monday 13 September 2021 15:39 , Andrew Naughtie

Axios quotes a “Democratic source” lamenting that the Republican Party’s criticism of the Afghan withdrawal is anything but authentic, and is instead designed to hang it around the president and his party like an albatross.

Complaining that the GOP are “making this as much of a Benghazi as they possibly can”, the source told the outlet that the Democrats are treating the matter as “an examination into U.S. policy toward a country in a 20-year war”.

Senate Democrats to try and keep hearing focused on wider Afghan war

Monday 13 September 2021 16:32 , Andrew Naughtie

According to Reuters, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – where Mr Blinken will testify tomorrow – are keen to avoid an autopsy of the withdrawal led by Republicans who want to frame Joe Biden for something set in motion years ago.

“My fear is that Republicans are going to turn this into a circus and try to put the blame on Joe Biden for 20 years’ worth of mistakes in Afghanistan,” the outlet quotes Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy saying.

“The real question is why did we stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years after we knew that there was going to be no way we could build an Afghan military, an Afghan government that was capable of holding the country against the Taliban once we left.”

Blinken on Taliban government: “it does not meet the test of inclusivity”

Monday 13 September 2021 17:00 , Andrew Naughtie

The Biden administration has been preparing for an era dealing with the Taliban not as an insurgent group, but as a de facto government – and in a press conference last week, Mr Blinken expressed misgivings about what that government looks like so far, and specifically who is in it.

Watch his remarks below.

Who is Antony Blinken?

Monday 13 September 2021 17:29 , Andrew Naughtie

As we prepare to watch the Secretary of State’s most intense public encounter since he took up the job, here’s The Independent’s profile of the veteran diplomat – whom Borzou Daragahi described as “a veteran of Washington’s old-school foreign policy elite” whose “conventional approach to diplomacy” may not go down well in today’s world.

Antony Blinken: A smooth, old-school diplomat in a harsh new world

Republican Congressman and Trump ally tells Blinken to resign

Monday 13 September 2021 18:10 , Gustaf Kilander

Republican congressman from Indiana Jim Banks, a staunch Trump ally, tweeted on Monday that the only thing Secretary Blinken should tell the House Foreign Affairs Committee this afternoon is: “I resign.”

Other Republicans who have called for the resignation of Mr Blinken include Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn.

Chairman starts off hearing by criticising Trump

Monday 13 September 2021 19:24 , Gustaf Kilander

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks opened the hearing by criticising former President Donald Trump.

“Trump’s deal forced the Afghan government to release 5,000 prisoners and offered international legitimacy to the Taliban,” he said.

But he also said about the Biden team: “Are there things the administration could have done differently? Absolutely yes.”

Top Republican on foreign affairs committee: Never thought I’d see ‘unconditional surrender to the Taliban'

Monday 13 September 2021 19:29 , Gustaf Kilander

The Ranking Member on the House Foreign Committee, Republican Michael McCaul said the US has lost to the terrorists as he blasted the Biden administration in his opening statement.

“This was an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions. I never thought in my lifetime that I would see an unconditional surrender to the Taliban,” he said.

“The American people don’t like to lose, especially not to the terrorists. But that is exactly what has happened,” he added.

Blinken says US 'achieved objectives' in Afghanistan 'long ago'

Monday 13 September 2021 19:33 , Gustaf Kilander

In a prepared opening statement to Congress, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US achieved its objectives in Afghanistan “long ago”.

“Osama bin Laden was killed in 2011. 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,” Mr Blinken said in the statement.

You can read the entire opening statement here.

Blinken announces $64m in new Afghanistan aid, calls evacuations ‘extraordinary effort’

Monday 13 September 2021 19:35 , John Bowden

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $64 million in aid to Afghanistan’s civilian population on Monday while vowing at a committee hearing held by the House Foreign Affairs panel to continue working to extract Americans and others from the country.

In prepared remarks, Mr Blinken claimed that the contribution from USAID would “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.”

USAID had initially announced the aid just hours earlier in a news release, but Mr Blinken was the first Biden administration official to speak publicly on the news.

Read more:

Blinken hails $64m in Afghanistan aid, calls evacuations ‘extraordinary effort’

Blinken again presses Trump-Taliban deal as reason for speedy withdrawal

Monday 13 September 2021 19:40 , Gustaf Kilander

“When President Biden took office in January, he inherited an agreement that his predecessor had reached with the Taliban to remove all remaining U.S. troops by May 1 of this year,” Mr Blinken said in a prepared statement.

“As part of that agreement, the previous Administration pressed the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners – including some top war commanders,” he added. “Meanwhile, it reduced our own force presence to 2,500 troops. In return, the Taliban agreed to stop attacking U.S. and partner forces and to refrain from threatening Afghanistan’s major cities. But the Taliban continued its relentless march on remote outposts, checkpoints, villages, and districts, as well as the major roads connecting the cities.”

You can read the entire opening statement here.

Taliban was at its strongest since 9/11 in January, Blinken says

Monday 13 September 2021 19:45 , Gustaf Kilander

“By January 2021, the Taliban was in its strongest military position since 9/11, and we had the smallest number of troops on the ground since 2001,” Mr Blinken said in a prepared opening statement to Congress.

“As a result, upon taking office, President Biden immediately faced the choice between ending the war or escalating it. Had he not followed through on his predecessor’s commitment, attacks on our forces and those of our allies would have resumed and the Taliban’s nationwide assault on Afghanistan’s major cities would have commenced. That would have required sending substantially more U.S. forces into Afghanistan to defend ourselves and prevent a Taliban 2 takeover, taking casualties – and with at best the prospect of restoring a stalemate and remaining stuck in Afghanistan, under fire, indefinitely,” Mr Blinken added, echoing arguments made by Mr Biden.

“There’s no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining. 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?” Mr Blinken said.

You can read the entire opening statement here.

Blinken says Biden admin 'significantly' sped up processing of Afghan special visas

Monday 13 September 2021 19:50 , Gustaf Kilander

“In April, we began drawing down our embassy, ordering non-essential personnel to depart,” Mr Blinken said in a prepared statement.

“We also used this time to significantly speed up the processing of Special Immigrant Visas for Afghans who worked for us. When we took office, we inherited a program with a 14-step process based on a statutory framework enacted by Congress and involving multiple government agencies – and a backlog of more than 17,000 SIV applicants.

“There had not been a single interview of an SIV applicant in Kabul in nine months, going back to March of 2020. The program was basically in a dead stall. Within two weeks of taking office, we restarted the SIV interview process in Kabul. On February 4th, one of the first executive orders issued by President Biden directed us to immediately review the SIV program to identify causes of undue delay and find ways to process SIV applications more quickly.

“This spring, I directed significant additional resources to the program, expanding the team of people in Washington processing applications from 10 to 50 and doubling the number of SIV adjudicators at our embassy in Kabul. Even as many embassy personnel returned to the United States, we sent more consular officers to Kabul to process SIV applications.”

You can read the entire opening statement here.

Blinken again cites military assessment to defend intelligence failure

Monday 13 September 2021 19:55 , Gustaf Kilander

Mr Blinken said the “emergency evacuation was sparked by the collapse of the Afghan security forces and government” during his opening statement.

“Throughout the year, we were constantly assessing their staying power and considering multiple scenarios. Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained.

“As General Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said, ‘Nothing I or anyone else saw indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days.’

“Nonetheless, we planned and exercised a wide range of contingencies. Because of that planning, we were able to draw down our embassy and move our remaining personnel to the airport within 48 hours. And the military – placed on standby by the President – was able to secure the airport and start the evacuation within 72 hours,” Mr Blinken added.

You can read the entire opening statement here.

Blinken says Taliban would recommence attacks on US if they stayed past deadline

Monday 13 September 2021 19:59 , Gustaf Kilander

Blinken hails evacuation effort

Monday 13 September 2021 20:05 , Gustaf Kilander

“The evacuation was an extraordinary effort – under the most difficult conditions imaginable – by our diplomats, military, and intelligence professionals,” Mr Blinken said in his opening statement.

“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, and off to the United States or transit locations that our diplomats arranged in multiple countries.

“Our consular team worked 24-7 to reach out to Americans who could still be in the country, making 55,000 phone calls and sending 33,000 emails by August 31 – and they’re still at it. In the midst of this heroic effort, an ISIS-K attack killed 13 service members working the gates at HKIA, wounded 20 others, and killed and wounded scores of Afghans. In the end, we completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated to safety,” he added.

You can read the entire opening statement here.

Blinken says Taliban is committed to preventing terror groups from using country as base

Monday 13 September 2021 20:07 , Gustaf Kilander

“The Taliban has committed to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghanistan as a base for external ops that could threaten the US or our allies, including Al Qaeda and ISIS-K,” Mr Blinken said during the hearing.

“That does not mean we will rely on them,” he added.

Blinken: “We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan."

Monday 13 September 2021 20:15 , Gustaf Kilander

“We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan,” Mr Blinken said when he was asked if any withdrawal plans were left by the Trump administration to remove US troops after they made the deal with the Taliban for when the US presence in the country would end.

Blinken says six Americans left Afghanistan via 'overland route'

Monday 13 September 2021 20:15 , Gustaf Kilander

“On Thursday, a Qatar Airways charter flight with US citizens and others onboard departed Kabul and landed in Doha. On Friday, a second flight carrying US citizens and others departed Afghanistan. These flights were the result of coordinated efforts by the United States, Qatar, and Turkey to reopen the airport, and intense diplomacy to start the flights,” Mr Blinken said in his opening statement.

“In addition to those flights, 6 American citizens and 11 permanent residents of the United States have also left Afghanistan via an overland route, with our help. We are in constant contact with American citizens still in Afghanistan who have told us they wish to leave. Each has been assigned a case management team to offer specific guidance and instructions. Some declined to be on the first flights on Thursday and Friday for reasons including needing more time to make arrangements, wanting to remain with extended family for now, or medical issues that preclude travelling now,” he added.

You can read the entire opening statement here.

Blinken: 100 Americans left in Afghanistan that want to leave

Monday 13 September 2021 20:19 , Gustaf Kilander

Democratic representative calls out Republican for shouting ‘you lie’ during Obama State of the Union

Monday 13 September 2021 20:26 , Gustaf Kilander

Blinken says 100 Americans still trying to get out of Afghanistan as GOP lawmakers call for his head

Monday 13 September 2021 20:32 , John Bowden

Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed that roughly 100 American citizens who had indicated desires to leave Afghanistan remained in the country as of Monday.

His remarks came during Monday’s hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which met to question the secretary about the chaotic exit from Kabul by US forces throughout the end of August, when the Biden administration airlifted tens of thousands of US forces and others out of the country following the fall of the capital to the Taliban.

“As of the end of last week, we had about 100 American citizens in Afghanistan who told us they want to leave the country,” Mr Blinken said, calling it a “moving picture”.

Read more:

Blinken says 100 Americans still trying to get out of Afghanistan

VIDEO: Blinken confirms 100 still await evacuation from Afghanistan

Monday 13 September 2021 20:34 , Gustaf Kilander

Blinken says US government will ‘remain hyper-vigilant’ about Al-Qaeda threat

Monday 13 September 2021 20:46 , Gustaf Kilander

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the US government “will remain hyper-vigilant about any reemergence” of a terror threat from Al-Qaeda.

Mr Blinken was asked to lay out a counterterrorism strategy in Afghanistan.

He mentioned over-the-horizon capabilities – using aerial surveillance and drones launched from outside the country to conduct counterterrorism intelligence operations.

Hearing descends into partisan rancor and goes off topic

Monday 13 September 2021 20:49 , Gustaf Kilander

Kinzinger places blame on both Trump and Biden

Monday 13 September 2021 21:09 , Gustaf Kilander

Illinois Republican Rep Adam Kinzinger said the Trump Administration “failed in the setup” of the Afghanistan withdrawal and that the Biden Administration “failed in the execution”.

He expressed appreciation of the “heroic” State Department staff but added that they shouldn’t have been put in a situation where they had to act like heroes.

Blinken says Biden would have withdrawn US troops regardless of Trump deal

Monday 13 September 2021 21:23 , Gustaf Kilander

During questioning by Republican New York Rep Lee Zeldin, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said President Joe Biden would have ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan regardless of the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban.

But he added that the time, place, and manner of the withdrawal was heavily influenced by the Trump-Taliban deal, putting some of the blame for the at times chaotic withdrawal on the previous administration.

Blinken has explosive exchange with Republican Brian Mast over Ghani call

Monday 13 September 2021 22:23 , John Bowden

Republican Brian Mast of the House Foreign Affairs Committee hammered Secretary of State Antony Blinken during the panel’s hearing regarding a Reuters report detailing a leaked transcript of a call between Ashraf Ghani, Afghanistan’s ousted president, and President Joe Biden from earlier this year.

In the transcript, which Mr Blinken and other officials have refused to verify, Mr Biden tells Mr Ghani that the perception of his government’s stability and strength must be maintained “whether true or not”.

"Did President Biden work with the coward exiled president of Afghanistan to manipulate the intelligence about the Taliban?" Mr Mast said during the exchange. “It’s false, it’s a lie, you did not attempt to tamp down the intelligence on the Taliban.”

“Absolutely not,” Mr Blinken replied.

Mr Mast went on to assert that the transcript was true, and that the call had allegedly resulted in the manipulation of intelligence data leading to the US being caught off-guard by the rapid speed at which Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, which he continued amounted to providing “aid and comfort” to the enemy. After accusing Mr Blinken of being complicit, he shouted down the secretary as Mr Blinken called him “dead wrong”.

“I don’t wish to hear your lies! We’ve heard your lies,” Mr Mast continued to shout over the secretary.

Blinken refuses to grade the US withdrawal’s success, clashes with Republicans

Monday 13 September 2021 22:41 , John Bowden

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that he couldn’t grade the success of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, but said that he agreed with the assertions from members of Congress that the withdrawal was not perfect.

The line of questioning came from Congressman Dean Phillips, a Democratic member. Seconds later, Rep. Andy Barr, a Republican, hammered Mr Blinken about whether the US military had advised the administration to withdraw completely from Bagram Air Base, or whether diplomats in the US administration had made that decision.

Mr Blinken responded that as Mr Barr knew the US was involved in a military withdrawal from the country and had handed control of Bagram to the Afghan National Army.

Another Republican, Greg Steube of Florida, kept up the furious GOP attacks on Mr Blinken by accusing him of “lying” in his opening statement, and evading responsibility for not responding to the rapid loss of territory by the Afghan National Army.

“You, Biden, and other Democrats want nothing more than to blame Trump”, said Mr Steube.

Republicans look for a fight while Democrats look forward

Monday 13 September 2021 23:22 , David Taintor

My colleague John Bowden noted earlier that this hearing wouldn’t so much provide new information about the Afghanistan withdrawal as provide an opportunity for grandstanding in the current C-SPAN era of national politics. Several Republicans have spoken over the secretary of state, and their fellow congressional colleagues, in an effort to create a made-for-Twitter contentious moment. Democrats have mostly focused their questions and comments on the future of Afghanistan, and enabling the Afghan people to counter the Taliban’s harsh rule.

Former Trump doctor-turned-congressman asks no questions while yelling at Blinken

Monday 13 September 2021 23:48 , David Taintor

Republican congressman Ronnie Jackson, who previously served as the White House physician for president Trump and Obama, delivered an impassioned rant at Mr Blinken. Mr Jackson said that four of his constituents had been left behind in Afghanistan by the Biden administration and were only evacuated from the country after a team of “patriots” organised by the congressman stepped in. Mr Jackson did not appear to ask the secretary of state a question during his allotted time.

Hearing adjourns

Tuesday 14 September 2021 00:24 , David Taintor

At just before 7.30pm ET, the hearing has adjourned. Thanks for following our coverage today.

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