Secretary of State Antony Blinken appeared in person before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday to answer for President Joe Biden’s chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal.
In his opening statement Blinken again blamed US citizens for getting stranded in Afghanistan, repeating that the State Department sent ’19 specific messages’ to Americans there, urging them to leave.
He added the department offered ‘financial assistance to pay for plane tickets.’
‘Despite this efforts, at the time of the evacuation began, there were still thousands of Americans in Afghanistan – almost all of whom were evacuated by August 31,’ the Biden official said.
But after the US wrapped its military withdrawal at the end of August, Blinken revealed that at least 100 Americans had been left behind.
On Tuesday Blinken said a ‘diplomatic mission’ was still in place working to get those people out.
He made similar comments earlier in September during a press briefing on that same ‘diplomatic mission.’
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on September 14
‘For many months, going back to March, we issued 19 different notices to those registered with he embassy, as I said encouraging them and then urging them to leave Afghanistan,’ he said on September 3.
During a grilling from ranking member Sen. Jim Risch Blinken confirmed reports that the Biden administration was warned in mid-July that Kabul would rapidly fall to the Taliban.
‘I certainly received this cable and in mid-July. I read it. I responded to it. I factored its contents into my thinking,’ Blinken answered.
He denied that the cable warned how quickly the Afghan government and military would collapse though he conceded it expressed ‘real concerns’ over the government’s durability after the US departure.
Blinken added that one ‘very good recommendation’ Biden officials took into consideration was to continue efforts expediting the evacuation of special immigrant visa applicants
‘That is the problem with us not having access to the cable. We were told by others it was significantly different than what you are saying,’ Risch replied.
On Tuesday Blinken also urged the Senate to quickly confirm President Biden’s State Department nominees involved in national security, citing the ever-present risk of attacks.
‘It is essential that we accelerate the process for national security appointments since a catastrophic attack could occur with little or no notice,’ Blinken told the committee.
Senator Bob Menendez, the committee’s Democratic chairman, asked the Senate on Monday to confirm four of some 80 State Department nominees now pending before the Senate, many of them being blocked by Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
In his opening remarks on Monday, Menendez said he was ‘very disappointed’ Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin declined to testify Tuesday.
‘A full accounting of the US response to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon. Especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the U.S. Trained and funded Afghan military,’ Menendez said.
He warned Austin’s decision would affect his ‘personal judgement’ on nominees to other Pentagon positions.
The New Jersey senator threatened to subpoena the Defense chief if he didn’t testify willingly.
‘I expect the secretary will avail himself to the committee in the near future and if he does not, I may consider use of committee subpoena power to compel him and others over the course of the last 20 years to testify,’ he said.
Ranking member Sen. Jim Risch shared Menendez’s sentiment, calling Austin’s refusal ‘disheartening.’
‘The debacle in Afghanistan is an interagency failure and the fact that you’re the only one stepping up is disheartening,’ Risch told Blinken.
Blinken sat before lawmakers after he was criticized by one Republican representative on Monday for testifying via video during his hearing before the House.
Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania asked Blinken if he ‘couldn’t be bothered to come down here and see Congress?’ on Monday.
‘All right, that’s great,’ he added.
Blinken replied that his understanding was the House was not in session.
‘I’m right here, Mr. Secretary, so is the chairman and ranking member,’ Perry interrupted. ‘We’re here!’