Blinken defends US withdrawal from Afghanistan in a heated debate with lawmakers

Photo: EPA US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies virtually before a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Washington, 13 September 2021.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken beat back criticism of the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan at a contentious congressional hearing as irate lawmakers accused the White House of presiding over a historic disaster, news wires reported. In five hours of often testy exchanges with lawmakers, he defended President Joe Biden's decision to pull out of Afghanistan and pushed back on accusations that the State Department should have done more to help Americans and at-risk Afghans to be evacuated, blaming the previous administration for lacking a plan.

Blinken appeared on Monday before the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and is set to testify on Tuesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the first Biden administration official to testify publicly to lawmakers since the Islamist militant group's takeover.

On Monday Blinken repeatedly noted that Republican former president Donald Trump had negotiated the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, and defended the Biden administration's failure to renegotiate the deal, insisting that threats from the hardline Islamist group to resume killing Americans were a security threat.

"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. "We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan," he added, referring to the Trump administration's agreement to remove all US forces from Afghanistan by 1 May.

Members of Congress - Biden's Democrats as well as opposition Republicans - have pledged to investigate since the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan last month after a rapid advance.

At a conference in Geneva on Monday donors pledged more than a billion dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. After decades of war and suffering, Afghans are facing "perhaps their most perilous hour", UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.

The UN chief said food supplies could run out by the end of this month, and the World Food Programme said 14 million people were on the brink of starvation.

 

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