Blinken testifies on Afghanistan: “We inherited a deadline, but not a plan”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken delivered an unwavering defense of the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan on Monday, insisting it was “time to end America’s longest war” and praising the evacuation from Kabul as “extraordinary.”

Why it matters: Blinken, who is appearing Monday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Tuesday before Senate Foreign Relations, is the first senior Biden official to testify on Afghanistan in the wake of the chaotic withdrawal. He’s expected to face the toughest grilling of his career.

On the Taliban government: 
Blinken acknowledged that the acting Cabinet includes members with “very challenging track records,” such as FBI-wanted interior minister Sirajuddin Haqqani. He said that when it comes to engaging with the Afghan government, the U.S. will do so “on the basis of whether or not it advances our interests.”On Trump’s Taliban peace deal: “We inherited a deadline, but not a plan,” Blinken said in response to Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who told Axios ahead of the hearing he would seek to highlight the previous administration’s role in the current Afghanistan situation.

What they’re saying … In his opening statement, Blinken echoed the same key arguments that Biden and his top national security officials have made in the weeks since Afghanistan fell to the Taliban:

  • Biden inherited a peace deal from the Trump administration that forced him to withdraw or risk the Taliban resuming attacks on U.S. forces, likely requiring another troop surge.
  • There’s “no evidence” that staying longer would have resulted in a different outcome, since 20 years and billions in U.S. funding failed to prevent the collapse of the Afghan security forces.
  • “Even the most pessimistic” intelligence assessments did not predict the Afghan government collapsing in 11 days, but the administration nonetheless planned for a “wide range of contingencies.”

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