Leading Democrat calls Afghan withdrawal 'fatally flawed'

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies on the Afghanistan withdrawal before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. ©AFP

Washington (AFP) - Senators from President Joe Biden's own Democratic Party took the administration to task Tuesday over the withdrawal from Afghanistan, which a top lawmaker called "fatally flawed."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken heard criticism across party lines as he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a day after a stronger partisan divide when he appeared before the House of Representatives.

Bob Menendez, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and normally a Biden ally, recounted the beating of a reporter by the victorious Taliban and said, "The repression of the Afghan people is happening in real time."

"Mr.Secretary, the execution of the US withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed," Menendez said.

"This committee expects to receive a full explanation of this administration's decisions on Afghanistan since coming into office last January. There has to be accountability."

Menendez, a fierce critic of Blinken's predecessor Mike Pompeo, was also scathing over the previous administration's signing of an agreement with the Taliban to withdraw US troops and end America's longest war.

"The chaos of (this) August is due in large part to the February 2020 surrender deal negotiated by Donald Trump, a deal that was clearly built on a set of lies," Menendez said.

Senator Ben Cardin, another Democrat, also blamed Trump for pushing for the release of Taliban prisoners and reducing troops under the accord.

But he said that Trump's actions did not "negate" that the Biden administration had information on the strength of the Afghan government and military which crumbled as US troops were still leaving.

"I think many of us are interested in knowing how intelligence got that so wrong," Cardin said.

Blinken staunchly defended Biden's decision to pull troops after 20 years, saying he did not believe in sending another generation of US troops into harm's way.

Under questioning, he said that the intelligence community said in February that the Taliban could capture Kabul "within a year or two" in a worst-case scenario.

But July, an updated assessment said "it was more likely than not that the Taliban would take over by the end of the year."

"Nothing," Blinken said, "suggested that this government and security forces would collapse in a matter of 11 days."


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