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Blinken readies for contentious Afghan hearings in Congress

WASHINGTON

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is preparing to face tough congressional questioning this week over the Biden administration’s handling of the military withdrawal from Afghanistan.

In separate House and Senate hearings, lawmakers are expected to grill Blinken on the Biden administration’s response to the rapid collapse of the Afghan government and more specifically on the State Department’s response to what many claim was a predictable result in the final days of the American military presence there.

Blinken, who had publicly predicted in June that a complete Taliban takeover would not happen “from a Friday to a Monday,” will appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. He’s likely to get assailed for that prediction, which turned out to have been wrong.

The State Department has come under heavy criticism from both Republicans and Democrats for not doing enough and not acting quickly enough to get American citizens, legal residents and at-risk Afghans out of the country after the Taliban took control of Kabul on Aug. 15.

Republicans, in particular, have been demanding answers as to why American citizens were left behind in the chaotic days and weeks before the military completed its withdrawal on Aug. 30. The State Department and the administration more broadly have defended their efforts, pointing to an unprecedented airlift of more than 100,000 people from Kabul in two weeks amid rampant confusion, extreme security risks and severe logistical challenges.

In a likely preview of GOP questions, the Republican National Committee released a statement early Monday with the banner headline “Fire Blinken,” demanding that he be held to account for what it described as a litany of failings.

“Blinken’s disastrous handling of Afghanistan and weak leadership put American lives in danger, including the lives of Americans still trapped in Afghanistan,” it said.

Blinken is very close to President Joe Biden and his job as America’s top diplomat is almost certainly safe, but criticism of the administration’s handling of the Afghanistan withdrawal has not been limited to Republicans.

Numerous Democrats have also questioned the policy and expressed concern about stranded Americans, green card holders and Afghans who could face retaliation from the Taliban because of their work or ties to the U.S. government over the past 20 years.

State Department officials have acknowledged that the congressional hearings could be contentious and possibly ugly, but many remain convinced they did the best they could under extremely trying circumstances, including the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and the crush of desperate people at Kabul’s airport seeking to leave.

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