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Blinken faces barrage of queries, criticism from senators over Afghanistan withdrawal

Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

“We expect the Taliban to ensure freedom of travel; to make good on its counterterrorism commitments; to uphold the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women, girls, minorities; to name a broadly representative permanent government; to forswear reprisals,” Blinken said. “The legitimacy and support that it seeks from the international community will depend entirely on its conduct.”

Senators from both parties questioned how U.S. intelligence could have so badly misjudged the staying power of the Afghan military and government, both of which essentially collapsed within 11 days. Blinken had no explanation.

The unexpectedly swift collapse “is what changed everything,” Blinken testified. “Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained.” Similar evaluations have been made by top Pentagon officials.

Several Republican senators used the hearing to highlight what they see as Biden’s failings, not necessarily related to Afghanistan.

Some Democrats tried to plumb the broader and historic failures of the 20-year Afghanistan project. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia suggested the U.S. tried to impose on Afghanistan a system that Afghanistan did not want, which doomed the effort to failure.

Despite good intentions, Kaine said, “Let’s face it, we can’t get 30% of Americans to get a vaccine; we can’t get 30% of Americans to acknowledge the results of a presidential election.

 

“Do we really think we can determine what the culture of another county should be?”

Lawmakers also raised another overriding concern: whether Afghanistan once again becomes a haven for terrorists. Under the Taliban in the 1990s, Afghanistan was a refuge for al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants. A recent report by the United Nations said the Taliban has not severed ties with al-Qaeda as promised in the Trump agreement.

In a briefing Tuesday to the Intelligence and National Security Summit, the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. Gen. Scott Berrier, said it may only take 12 to 24 months for al-Qaida to rebuild itself in Afghanistan and pose a threat to the U.S.

Blinken, in his testimony, acknowledged that the Taliban maintains ties with al-Qaida.

©2021 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.