'Fatally flawed': Top Senate Democrat blasts Biden's Afghanistan withdrawal

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Sep 15, 2021, 6:06:31 PM9/15/21
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'Fatally flawed': Top Senate Democrat blasts Biden administration's
Afghanistan withdrawal
Deirdre Shesgreen
USA TODAY

DEMOCRATIC Senator Menendez blasts away!


WASHINGTON – A top Senate Democrat on Tuesday blasted the Biden
administration's handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as
"fatally flawed" and threatened to subpoena Defense Secretary Lloyd
Austin if he doesn't agree to testify "in the near future."

The sharp rebuke from Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee, came as Secretary of State Antony Blinken faced a
second day of intense questioning by lawmakers furious over the chaotic
U.S. exit from Afghanistan.

"The execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed,"
Menendez, D-N.J., told Blinken in opening remarks. "This committee
expects to receive a full explanation of the administration's decisions
on Afghanistan since coming into office last January. There has to be
accountability."

Republicans called Biden's handling of the withdrawal an epic military
and foreign policy disaster, even some of those who previously supported
the decision to end the war.


"I've advocated for an end to the Afghan war for over a decade, I'm glad
it's finally over," said Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. "But never in my worst
nightmares did anyone ... conceive of such a colossal incompetence."

He faulted the Biden administration for leaving U.S. military equipment
behind and for closing Bagram Airfield too early in the withdrawal,
among other steps. And he grilled Blinken over reports that an Aug. 29
drone strike may have killed an Afghan aid worker and his family – not
Islamic State terrorists, as Pentagon leaders have asserted.


"Was he an aid worker or an ISIS-K operative?" Paul asked, referring to
Islamic State affiliates in Kabul.

Blinken said he didn't know and the administration is reviewing the matter.

"You’d think you’d kind of know before you off someone with a predator
drone,” Paul responded, arguing that if the man killed was an Afghan
civilian, the American strike could be used as propaganda for the
recruitment of new potential terrorists.

Blinken strongly defended President Joe Biden's decision to end
America's 20-year war in Afghanistan and the administration's handling
of the evacuation. He said no one in the U.S. government predicted the
Afghan security forces would surrender to the Taliban so quickly, a
surprise development that paved the way for the militant Islamic group
to take over the country within days.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken listens during a Senate Foreign
Relations Committee hearing, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021 on Capitol Hill in
Washington. Blinken was questioned about the Biden administration's
handling of the U.S. withdraw from Afghanistan.
"Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government
forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained," Blinken
said. "They were focused on what would happen after the United States
withdrew, from September onward."

After the Afghan forces disintegrated, Blinken said, State Department
and the Pentagon officials orchestrated "an extraordinary effort" to
evacuate U.S. citizens and Afghan allies over the course over two weeks,
before the last U.S. forces withdrew from Kabul at the end of last month.

"They worked around the clock to get American citizens, Afghans who
helped us, citizens of our allies and partners, and at-risk Afghans on
planes (and) out of the country," Blinken told the committee. "In the
end, we completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000
people evacuated to safety."

Lawmakers in both parties remain deeply frustrated that the State
Department did not begin a mass evacuation earlier, targeting Afghans
who worked for the U.S. military during the war and who are now acutely
vulnerable to Taliban reprisals. They are also concerned about the
estimated 100 U.S. citizens who are still in Afghanistan and seeking to
leave.

But Tuesday's session was not a bipartisan pile-on. Several Democrats
said there was no clean way for the U.S. to leave Afghanistan after
years of executing a failed mission that shifted from defeating al-Qaida
to nation building.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said Washington pundits and defense
contractors are coming out about how the war ended "because they didn't
want it to ever end."

"They're mad because they think we should be an occupying force
indefinitely, and they know that position is untenable," he said. "They
won't acknowledge the fundamental mistake was that we invaded a country
in Central Asia without a good understanding of its people, its history
or origins or of its culture."

'Stop with the hypocrisy'
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said she and other senators tried for years
to speed up the special immigrant visa (SIV) process for Afghans who
served alongside U.S. troops, as translators and in other roles, but
those efforts were stymied by Republicans in Congress and the Trump
administration. She questioned how GOP lawmakers could be expressing
outrage now over their fate and the fate of Afghan women.

"There were a few Republicans in the Senate who blocked us year after
year from getting more SIV applicants to the United States," she said,
"and I want to know where that outrage was during the negotiations by
the Trump administration and former Secretary (of State Mike) Pompeo
when they were giving away the rights of women and girls."

She was referring to the 2020 agreement that the Trump administration
signed with the Taliban, under which the U.S. agreed to a full military
withdrawal by May 1, 2021. In exchange, the Taliban agreed to stop
attacking American troops and sever its ties with al-Qaida, the
terrorist group that launched the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S.

"Sec. Pompeo came before this committee and blew off questions about
what they were doing to pressure the Taliban to have women at the
negotiating table for that peace treaty," Shaheen said in a flash of
anger. "Let’s stop with the hypocrisy of who's to blame. There are a lot
of people to blame, and we all share in it.”

But Menendez, normally a White House ally, made it clear he has no
intention of shielding a Democratic administration from scrutiny over
Afghanistan. He and the ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. James
Risch of Idaho, demanded Austin testify about the U.S. exit.
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