Watch live as Blinken testifies to House on Afghanistan withdrawal
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was grilled by the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which saw tens of thousands of people evacuated from the country in short order as it fell to the Taliban at unexpected speed.
The president and his aides have blamed the now-collapsed Afghan government and army for giving in to the Taliban as it marched across the country, but critics on both sides of the aisle accuse the administration of “giving up” on the Afghan people and Americans working on the ground there, as well as Afghan translators and workers who helped the US in its two-decade mission. They now face violent reprisal from the Taliban, which is already committing human rights abuses and radically curtailing women’s freedoms in particular.
The US this weekend marked the two-decade anniversary of 9/11, the event that precipitated the Afghan invasion – and which Joe Biden set as his deadline for pulling all US troops out.
Welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of Antony Blinken’s Afghanistan testimony. Stay with us for the latest updates.
Who are the Taliban?
Before the appalling scenes that unfolded at Kabul airport began last month, the rest of Afghanistan saw the Taliban seize power at astonishing speed – apparently much faster than the Biden administration or US intelligence had expected.
Now that the extremist group is once again in charge of the country it once ruled according to its draconian interpretation of Islamic law, the world is reminding itself of who the Taliban really are. Joe Sommerlad has this explainer.
Who are the Taliban? A simple explanation
Key Biden critics on panel include Afghanistan veteran
Among those on the House panel to which Antony Blinken is testifying is Adam Kinzinger, a Republican congressman who served in Afghanistan as a US Air Force pilot. An outspoken critic of Donald Trump, he is also one of his party’s most intense critics of the Afghan withdrawal – both its execution and the fact the US has pulled out in the first place.
In particular, he is angry at the fate of Americans left behind now the main evacuation is complete.
Biden’s predecessor calls him a ‘fool’ – despite initiating withdrawal himself
Donald Trump this weekend laid into Joe Biden for his handling of the Afghan withdrawal, a policy that was in fact initiated by his own administration.
In a message released on the anniversary of 9/11, the sometime president declared: “The leader of our country was made to look like a fool and that can never be allowed to happen.”
Mr Trump’s Afghan policy has come under severe scrutiny since the Taliban marched through the country’s major cities. Particularly contentious is the negotiated release of 5,000 Taliban members from prison in exchange for 1,000 members of the Afghan security forces.
Former president launches partisan attack through his campaign as nation mourns
The use of drones to attack ground targets in Afghanistan (and beyond) has been controversial for years, and a recent strike is proving just as contentious.
According to a disturbing New York Times report, the driver of a car struck by a drone near Kabul airport at the end of last month may not have had any connection to the Isis-K terror group, and that the vehicle may not have been carrying a bomb at all.
Read more here:
‘You say he was Isis, but he worked for the Americans,’ brother of man killed in blast says
Afghan withdrawal shakes up Republican Party politics
The Trump years saw the Republican Party shift its thinking on military intervention away from aggressive action and towards something approaching isolationism. The 45th president was an opponent of expending American blood and treasure on what he thought of as other people’s wars; instead, he threatened to withhold funding from NATO and other allies in order to extract concessions and compliance while pulling US troops out of places where they had been serving for years or decades.
This has left the pro-Trump GOP mainstream somewhat confused about how to react to the Afghan withdrawal – and how to use it as an issue in the 2024 presidential campaign if Mr Trump doesn’t run.
Tom Rogan has this analysis.
From Ron DeSantis to Nikki Haley to Ted Cruz, GOP members have been jostling for airtime — and for the most popular opinion
Ilhan Omar on drone attacks
One of the most prominent questioners Mr Blinken will face is Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a member of the so-called “squad” of young progressive representatives who have earned themselves a national platform.
Ms Omar, who was herself a child refugee from Somalia, has been an outspoken critic of the US’s Afghanistan policy in general. She recently hit out at the Biden administration over a drone attack at the end of August that killed 10 people, including seven children.
Who can leave Afghanistan now?
It was only a few days ago that the first commercial flight to leave Afghanistan since the Taliban’s takeover. The Qatar Airways flight bound for Doha was reportedly full of westerners, many of them American civilians. Its departure was assured after intense negotiations between the Taliban and Washington.
Read more here:
Two senior Taliban officials helped organise the departure, says US official
Report: Republicans “making this as much of a Benghazi as they possibly can"
Axios quotes a “Democratic source” lamenting that the Republican Party’s criticism of the Afghan withdrawal is anything but authentic, and is instead designed to hang it around the president and his party like an albatross.
Complaining that the GOP are “making this as much of a Benghazi as they possibly can”, the source told the outlet that the Democrats are treating the matter as “an examination into U.S. policy toward a country in a 20-year war”.
Senate Democrats to try and keep hearing focused on wider Afghan war
According to Reuters, Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – where Mr Blinken will testify tomorrow – are keen to avoid an autopsy of the withdrawal led by Republicans who want to frame Joe Biden for something set in motion years ago.
“My fear is that Republicans are going to turn this into a circus and try to put the blame on Joe Biden for 20 years’ worth of mistakes in Afghanistan,” the outlet quotes Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy saying.
“The real question is why did we stay in Afghanistan for another 10 years after we knew that there was going to be no way we could build an Afghan military, an Afghan government that was capable of holding the country against the Taliban once we left.”
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