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Thursday, January 20, 2022

Blinken grilled over ‘fatally flawed’ Afghanistan withdrawal


Qatar has rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of Afghans and foreigners from Afghanistan since the Taliban took over Kabul last month.
The US Senate grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken for Washington’s handling of the Afghanistan troop withdrawal last month, which marked the end of a 20-year invasion that did little to bring peace to the country.
This came on Tuesday as Blinken testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee following a second day of interrogation from Republican lawmakers who have long criticised the Joe Biden administration for what appeared to be a hasty withdrawal that led to chaos at Hamid Karzai International Airport.

New Jersey Democrat Bob Mendez even threatened to subpoena Defence Minister Lloyd Austin along with other members of the administration, describing the US and NATO troop withdrawal as “fatally flawed”.

The Democrat also vowed to hold multiple members of the administration accountable for lying about the situation in Afghanistan and the readiness of the former government to fight the Taliban.
Evidently, Kabul quickly fell to the Taliban without a fight after the group gained control over other provincial capitals. Before the collapse of the former Afghan government, President Biden said Afghans needed to fight their own battles and said the US did not invade the country for nation building purposes.
The statements made by the American president contradicted claims made by him and former administrations over invading Afghanistan for the purpose of nation building, fighting terrorism and empowering Afghan women and girls.
However, the two-decade-long invasion came to an end last month with a Taliban takeover, uncertainty in a country already ridden by corruption and drought and thousands killed.

“[Austin’s refusal to testify] will affect my personal judgment on Department of Defence nominees,” noted Mendez.

Spain ‘trusts in Qatar’s role’ to stabilise situation in Afghanistan: FM


Defending Biden’s decision, Blinken said that the US had already prepared itself for the “worst-case scenario” in the country during the spring and summer. The plans focused on the evacuation of members at the US embassy in Kabul in 48 hours while controlling the airport.
The Taliban had already made military advances ahead of the Kabul takeover following Biden’s announcement in April to fully withdraw troops without conditions, enabling the group to act with impunity.
Meanwhile, an internal State Department memo released on 31 July had warned of the militants’ takeover of Kabul and collapse of the former Afghan government following the troop withdrawal, with Blinken declining to hand the Senate Foreign Relations Committee a copy of the documents.
Blinken said the documents were designed “only to be shared with senior officials in the department”.
By the time the militants took over the capital city on 15 August, Kabul’s airport witnessed nothing but chaos and horrifying scenes showing some people falling to their deaths while latching onto airplanes.
Amid all the disturbing scenes, witnesses saw US soldiers fire gunshots in the air to disperse Afghans desperate to leave the country.
Qatar rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of Afghans and foreigners, allowing the US to move its embassy in Kabul to Doha. Since then, Doha managed to evacuate over 50,000 people while working on ensuring the airport is operational again for those wishing to leave the country using regular passenger flights.
On Tuesday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani held a phone call with Blinken in which they reviewed bilateral cooperations in light of the latest developments in Afghanistan.
The US and the rest of the international community have been praising Qatar for carrying out one of the largest airlifts of people in history in a limited amount of time. Some evacuees were placed in temporary housings in Doha while others were taken to the American Al Udeid Air Base.
Blinken told the Senate that the State Department is still processing applicants of the Special Immigrant Visas [SIV] who remain in Afghanistan while noting that “thousands” of American green-card holders are still in Kabul.
Responding to a question on why the 31 August deadline for the withdrawal was not extended to process the SIVs, Blinken said the US “took some risks” in delaying the initial 1 May deadline, a date that was previously agreed on between Washington and the Taliban during talks in Doha.

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