Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, gave an unapologetic defence of the American military’s chaotic and bloody withdrawal from Afghanistan as he appeared before lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
In prepared remarks released ahead of a hearing before the House foreign affairs committee on Monday, Blinken said “even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while US forces remained”, and there was “no evidence” that a longer presence would have changed the outcome.
“If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or 10, make a difference?” Blinken asked.
“Conversely, there is nothing that strategic competitors like China and Russia — or adversaries like Iran and North Korea — would have liked more than for the United States to re-up a 20-year war and remain bogged down in Afghanistan for another decade,” he added.
The Biden administration has been heavily criticised for misreading the situation on the ground in Afghanistan ahead of its withdrawal last month, and for ploughing ahead with the pullout by August 31 even as the Taliban captured the country’s main cities and took control of Kabul.
As thousands of people attempting to flee the country surrounded Hamid Karzai International Airport in the final days of the US’s military presence, a terrorist attack at the gates of the airport killed scores of people, including Afghan civilians and 13 members of the US military.
Meanwhile, thousands of vulnerable Afghans who had helped coalition forces during the 20-year conflict were left behind, as were up to 200 Americans, some of who remain in the country.
“We will continue to help Americans — and Afghans to whom we have a special commitment — depart Afghanistan if they choose, just as we’ve done in other countries where we’ve evacuated our embassy and hundreds or even thousands of Americans remained behind — for example, in Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, and Somalia. There is no deadline to this mission,” Blinken said.
He said the US would continue to provide humanitarian assistance to the country, even though the Taliban, which is under US sanctions, now controls Afghanistan. “Consistent with sanctions, this aid will not flow through the government, but rather through independent organizations like NGOs and UN agencies.”