The Joe Biden administration came in for a second round of withering criticism in Congress on Tuesday over its handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan, this time with a top Democrat joining Republicans in accusing officials of bungling the pullout.
Robert Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called the withdrawal “clearly and fatally flawed” and scorched President Joe Biden and his team for failing to anticipate the Taliban’s speedy takeover of Afghanistan. The New Jersey senator also threatened to subpoena Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who he said declined an invitation to testify alongside Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
“This rapid collapse laid bare a fundamental fact — that successive administrations lied to the Congress over the years about the durability of Afghan military and government institutions and we need to understand why,” Menendez said.
It was a bipartisan challenge, a day after Blinken testified before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where Republicans attacked the administration and demanded Blinken’s resignation while Democrats largely blamed former President Donald Trump for the deal his administration cut with the Taliban last year for the U.S. to withdraw.
On Tuesday, James Risch of Idaho, the Senate committee’s ranking Republican, called the Biden administration’s handling of Afghanistan a “dismal failure” and “a stain on America’s credibility.”
“The Biden administration left Afghanistan in total disarray and singlehandedly created a humanitarian crisis,” Risch said. “The Taliban is now one of the best-armed terrorist organizations on the planet.”
Repeatedly questioned about the failure to predict the rapid Taliban advance, Blinken said there was nothing the administration saw that “suggested that this government and security forces would collapse in a matter of days”
“We need to look back at all of this,” Blinken said. “We did not see this collapse in a matter of 11 days but it is important that we go back and look at all of this.”
Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire criticized the efforts to assign blame, saying “the important thing for us to do now is to figure out how we can work together to address those people who still need to be evacuated from Afghanistan. There are a lot of people to blame, and we all share in it.”
Blinken told lawmakers on Monday that the US had given many warnings to Americans that they should leave Afghanistan and is still working to evacuate the 100 or so believed to remain there. He said the U.S. also wants to help all those Afghans to whom the US “has a special commitment.”
As the United Nations and other groups warn of a humanitarian catastrophe in the country, Blinken said the US will provide $64 million in new humanitarian aid to Afghanistan that “will not flow through the government” but instead through nongovernmental organisations.
The demand by Menendez that Austin appear before his panel is a departure from the usual protocol that the secretary of state testifies to the Foreign Relations committee while the secretary of defense goes before the Armed Services panel. Austin is schedule to testify there on September 28.
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