Sep 13, 2021
Sec. of State Antony Blinken Testifies on Withdrawal from Afghanistan Full Hearing Transcript September 13
Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified on the U.S. exit from Afghanistan on September 13, 2021. Read the full transcript of the hearing here.
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Secretary Blinken: (00:00)
… at the State Department?
Rep. Perry: (00:02)
Couldn’t be bothered to come down here and see Congress. All right, that’s great. Hey [crosstalk 00:00:06].
Secretary Blinken: (00:06)
Excuse me, sir. My understanding is that the House is not in session and that’s why the [crosstalk 00:00:12].
Rep. Perry: (00:12)
I’m right here secretary, so is the chairman, so is the ranking member, we’re in [crosstalk 00:00:15]. We’re here, Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time. Did state at any point in the evacuation process, block American citizens from leaving Afghanistan?
Secretary Blinken: (00:25)
No, we did not.
Rep. Perry: (00:26)
Not. Your testimony before Congress is that state didn’t block any American citizens leaving Afghanistan?
Secretary Blinken: (00:32)
To the contrary, my officers, men and women, ran into the building from around the world to help Americans get out.
Rep. Perry: (00:36)
It’s a simple yes or no. I heard you do it with Mr. Connolly, you can do it with me. Yes or no. I just want to clarify you didn’t block anybody, state did [crosstalk 00:00:44] any Americans?
Secretary Blinken: (00:45)
No. We were there to help Americans get out.
Rep. Perry: (00:47)
How many Afghans not meeting the qualifications of SIV have been brought to the United States? Prior to… I want to know how many Afghan citizens came to the United States that had not met the qualifications for Special Immigrant Visa.
Secretary Blinken: (01:04)
We’re in the process of-
Rep. Perry: (01:05)
No, how many?
Secretary Blinken: (01:05)
Rep. Perry: (01:07)
How many? How many did you bring? You were just at Dallas. How many did you bring?
Secretary Blinken: (01:11)
We will have, by the end of the month, we will have brought a total of approximately 60,000-
Rep. Perry: (01:17)
That have not the SIV process?
Secretary Blinken: (01:21)
Some of those will have been through the SIV process. All of them, regardless of SIV status, will have gone through rigorous security checks first at the transit point-
Rep. Perry: (01:29)
It’d be nice if [crosstalk 00:01:31] that was done before we brought these people to the United States of America. Mr. Secretary, are Afghan refugees required to be vaccinated for COVID before coming to the United States of America?
Secretary Blinken: (01:41)
They are vaccinated in the United States before they are resettled into the United States.
Rep. Perry: (01:47)
There are none of these Afghan citizens that are allowed to leave these resettlement communities [inaudible 00:01:54], Dallas, et cetera, that are allowed to leave at anytime they want, none of them are leaving unless they are vaccinated for COVID. Is that your testimony?
Secretary Blinken: (02:04)
They’re tested for COVID and vaccinated for COVID.
Rep. Perry: (02:07)
Vaccinated before they leave?
Secretary Blinken: (02:09)
That’s my understanding.
Rep. Perry: (02:11)
All right. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Is it the policy of the United States of America to take hard earned tax dollars and pay terrorist organizations?
Secretary Blinken: (02:22)
It is not.
Rep. Perry: (02:22)
It is not. Your testimony earlier was is that we’re sending taxpayer dollars to Afghanistan right now for humanitarian relief. Who are we sending that to?
Secretary Blinken: (02:33)
To NGOs and to the United Nations agencies who are using that assistance, not to the Afghan government.
Rep. Perry: (02:37)
Not to the Afghan, the Taliban government. How are you accounting for that? How are you making sure that the Afghan, the Taliban government is not receiving that?
Secretary Blinken: (02:49)
As we do around the world in places of conflict, where we provide humanitarian assistance, working through UN, working through NGOs, with long tested methods, to make sure that-
Rep. Perry: (02:59)
All right. I got. Let me ask you this-
Secretary Blinken: (03:02)
Not to the government of question.
Rep. Perry: (03:02)
Is it your understanding that over the past 20 years, the United States taxpayers have paid Pakistan who was then used that money to support the Taliban, the Haqqani Network, ISISK Khorasan group, et cetera, for the past 20 years. Is that not true?
Secretary Blinken: (03:19)
There’s a long history that we should all look at together-
Rep. Perry: (03:21)
Secretary Blinken: (03:23)
Of the involvement of Pakistan.
Rep. Perry: (03:23)
I would say that we should no longer pay Pakistan and we should pay India. Let me ask you this. I just have a couple more questions for you, a little off topic here, but I think it’s interesting. How long was your recent interview with the FBI, and was it a deposition?
Secretary Blinken: (03:39)
I’m sorry, I don’t know what you’re referring.
Rep. Perry: (03:41)
Are you saying that you have not had a recent interview with the FBI since becoming secretary of state?
Secretary Blinken: (03:51)
I’m not sure what you’re referring to and I’m happy to take that up with you [inaudible 00:03:55].
Rep. Perry: (03:56)
Did the State Department turn over documents to the FBI related to Hunter Biden, Burisma and, or the Blue State Strategies Corporation?
Secretary Blinken: (04:06)
You will have to ask-
Rep. Perry: (04:07)
You have no knowledge of this? Are you saying you have not had an interview with the FBI?
Secretary Blinken: (04:13)
It would not be appropriate for me to comment in a public forum on any legal proceedings that the department [crosstalk 00:04:21].
Rep. Perry: (04:22)
I’m not asking you to comment on the legal proceedings. I’m just asking if you’ve been interviewed by the FBI since becoming secretary of state.
Secretary Blinken: (04:30)
Again, I’m not going to comment one way or another on any legal proceedings or not that may or may not have happened-
Rep. Meeks: (04:39)
Let me remind the gentlemen that the topic of this hearing is Afghanistan. That’s what we’re-
Rep. Perry: (04:43)
I appreciate it, Mr. Chairman, but the secretary generally refuses to answer questions about Afghanistan so I’ve just figured we’d talk about something he should be intimately familiar with. Have you sought to alter any of your testimony from last year Senate investigation regarding this topic?
Rep. Meeks: (04:57)
Mr. Secretary, gentleman’s time has expired. Let me also for the record make clear that this is a hybrid hearing. Just as members had an option to come or to be other places, the secretary also, it’s a hybrid hearing because we are not in session
Representative Darrell Issa: (05:20)
Mr. Chairman point of inquiry, if I could.
Rep. Meeks: (05:23)
Representative Darrell Issa: (05:24)
This is Congressman Issa. Just for my edification, was it expressed to the secretary that he had a choice of either one, or was he invited to come here, or was he alerted to remain there? I only ask because I think we all agree that if he could have been here in person, it would have been better. But if it was an option or for whatever reason, because I want to make sure that it’s clear that the secretary may have done no wrong, even though many of us would prefer him to be here.
Rep. Meeks: (05:55)
Secretary has done no wrong. It was an option and I made it as an option as I had done with every member.
Representative Darrell Issa: (06:00)
Okay. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Rep. Meeks: (06:02)
I now recognize Representative Karen Bass of California, who’s the chair of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Global Human Rights for five minutes.
Representative Karen Bass: (06:12)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, and thank you Secretary Blinken for attending this hearing and for your patience with putting up with the theatrics of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle. I want to thank you again for spending the time and agreeing to take everyone’s questions for five minutes. Of the departure from Afghanistan has provided really unprecedented insight into our foreign policy. In addition to demonstrating the bravery, dedication and professionalism of our military, diplomats and Afghan partners, it has also shown how a 20-year effort and billions of dollars have really raised questions about what the return of investment is that we desired in terms of sustaining peace and stability in Afghanistan. The assumption of power by the Taliban has secondary and tertiary effects on the most vulnerable segments of the population, especially women and children. We’re concerned that it will reverse any gains that were realized in the last two decades. My first question, yes or no, Mr. Secretary, did the agreement from the last administration include any protections for girls and women?
Secretary Blinken: (07:28)
Not to my knowledge.
Representative Karen Bass: (07:30)
Many people are concerned about the status of women and girls in Afghanistan, under the Taliban. The restrictions on education, movement, health, physical safety, under their regime paints a grim picture. I’d like to know how the administration will work with partners to [inaudible 00:07:47] for the women’s rights and the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. [inaudible 00:07:53]. Go ahead.
Secretary Blinken: (07:57)
Thank you Congressman. One of the truly great achievements of the last 20 years was the progress made by women and girls in particular in Afghanistan. One of the things that we should be proud of is the support, the leading support, that we gave to that when it comes to access to education, to healthcare, to the workforce, entrepreneurship. Those gains were significant. We were the leading contributor. I was in Kabul in April. I sat with a number of women who had benefited from our assistance, including women who’ve gone on to become leaders in their parliament, in the media, NGOs, et cetera. And of course heard their profound concerns about the future. Just recently when I was in Doha and at Ramstein talking to people who’ve been evacuated from Afghanistan, I spoke to a lot of women girls and heard their deep concerns about the future, as well as people who were still in Afghanistan.
Secretary Blinken: (09:02)
And so we have an ongoing commitment to use every tool at our disposal, through our diplomacy, through our economic assistance, humanitarian assistance, programmatic assistance, to do whatever we can to continue, in coordination with many other countries, to support women and girls and minorities in Afghanistan. The assistance that we announced today will go in that direction. The assistance we’ll provide going forward will do that. With regard to women and girls in particular, given the incredible fragility of the situation that they’re now in, I will be naming a senior official here at the State Department to focus entirely on the ongoing effort, both from the United States government and in coordination with other countries, to support them.
Representative Karen Bass: (09:49)
Well, thank you very much. And so will the administration expand the license to operate humanitarian programs in Afghanistan, and how will that take place, and which partners do you see us continuing to work with?
Secretary Blinken: (10:03)
Yeah. In short, yes, that’s exactly what we’re looking at. You rightly point out, we’ve already issued a license to make sure humanitarian assistance could go forward. We’re looking at whether that needs to be expanded, consistent, of course, with our sanctions and consistent with our national security, to allow appropriate assistance to get to those who need it.
Representative Karen Bass: (10:25)
Who approves that license? Who are we making that request?
Secretary Blinken: (10:28)
The treasury department is responsible for the licenses, but we don’t do this in coordination or consultation with us and other agencies in the government, as well as of course the White House.
Representative Karen Bass: (10:38)
Which partners on the ground are we continuing to work with?
Secretary Blinken: (10:43)
We can get you the list. We have a number of NGOs that remain active in Afghanistan. [crosstalk 00:10:49].
Representative Karen Bass: (10:50)
NGOs or INGOs?
Secretary Blinken: (10:53)
There are, I believe, a couple of US NGOs that are still active, international NGOs, and UN agencies. I met with the head of the UN humanitarian assistance program just a few days ago when I was in Doha. We spent a lot of time talking about how this assistance could continue to go forward and what some of the mechanisms were that could be put in place to make sure that it was getting to the right people and being used effectively.
Rep. Meeks: (11:22)
The lady’s time has expired. I now recognized Representative Darrell Issa from California for five minutes.
Representative Darrell Issa: (11:27)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary, before we get into the tougher part of this, I want to thank you for the effort that has gone on by the men and women of both the State Department and the Department of Defense, and a lot of independent actions that occurred to try to help get people out in the aftermath of the withdrawal. I would not be doing my job though if I didn’t ask some tough questions. One of them is up here on this board and it’s pretty straight forward. A response I received from the State Department said to my staff when we asked about continued work to get people out. It said, “Make contingency plans to leave when it is safe to do so that do not rely on US government assistance.
Representative Darrell Issa: (12:17)
How do we square the fact that in an official response that I waited weeks for, that we do not have any assurance for assistance, but that when people get out, typically they are lauded by the State Department as success stories. That includes an 80-year-old couple that was announced to have gotten out when in fact we saw no real assistance by the State Department, had to find out there was a non-government flight and get these two American citizens onto that flight. And we still have a number of others. In a nutshell, how do I explain, don’t rely on the United States? Do we, or do we not rely on the United States of America for a blue passport holder, American citizens who want to get out?
Secretary Blinken: (13:07)
The answer to that is, yes, absolutely. Could you tell me, because I’m sorry, I can’t see it clearly from here, when and to whom that statement was made?
Representative Darrell Issa: (13:17)
We’ll give it to your staff so that you get it without it being fully disclosed. But it is a correspondence [crosstalk 00:13:22].
Secretary Blinken: (13:22)
I’d really welcome following up with you, with your team, with your staff, to make sure that we are following up on that particular requests. I’ve got here, because I really want to express deep appreciation to members of Congress, this committee. I have here a very lengthy document of all of the inquiries that we’ve received just from HVAC, from members of HVAC, on people who’ve come to you seeking assistance, all of which has been factored into our databases, our information, our efforts. But if someone is not getting the response they need, please come back to us and let me know. We’d be very happy to work with you on that. Thank you.
Representative Darrell Issa: (14:03)
We’ll do that. Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Now, if I can quickly go through a few dates at a few statements. On July 8th, President Biden was asked if he listened to the intelligence assessment that the Afghan government was likely to collapse. He answered, “That is not true. They did not reach that conclusion.” In other words, the IC hadn’t reached that conclusion. I believe that we’ll find that as of July 8th, the president misspoke. The president also said the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country, is highly unlikely. Two days later on July 10th, the Taliban was reported to have 85% of the country. Then on August 12th, the Wall Street Journal reported that on July 13th, you received an urgent dissent memo from 23 US embassy personnel in Kabul warning that the advances of the Taliban and the rapid collapse of Afghanistan. Your spokesman said you read every memo sent to you from the dissent channel. If you do, then you knew that in fact a major portion of people in the embassy believed that they were going to quickly overrun.
Representative Darrell Issa: (15:24)
On August 18th, President Biden said the intelligence community did not say back in June or July, that in fact this was going to collapse like it did. But the embassy told you, or at least some great many in July that it would. The question really is, how do we regain confidence in the State Department and it’s spokespeople, yourself included, and the president, if in fact we cannot square what we receive members of Congress, both publicly and privately, that indicate some of those statements that I just read, including ones by the president are not supported by the facts?
Secretary Blinken: (16:06)
Thank you. As you know from tracking this as well, throughout the year assessments were made of the resilience of the Afghan government, the Afghan security forces and the possibility of the Taliban taking over the country. This was typically done in a series of different scenarios, worse, B case, best case scenarios. In the worst case scenarios, throughout the spring I think it’s fair to say that the general assessment was that the government and security forces would be able to hold onto the country well into next year, 2022. At some point in July, there was an assessment that it was more likely than not that that timeframe was down to the end of the year. And then of course, as things fully unraveled in August, that changed. To my knowledge congressman, no one predicted the unraveling before our forces and embassy left Afghanistan on August 31st.
Secretary Blinken: (17:13)
The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Milley, has said, “Nothing I or anyone else saw indicated a collapse of the government and the security forces in 11 days.” The director of national intelligence has said, “In the days leading up to the Taliban takeover, intelligence agencies did not say collapse was imminent. This unfolded more quickly than we anticipated, including in the intelligence community.” There are a number of other conclusory statements of that kind that I can share with you.
Secretary Blinken: (17:40)
With regard to the so-called dissent channel cable. It’s something I’m immensely proud of. It’s a tradition that we have and you’re right. I read every such cable, I respond to it, I factor it into my own thinking and actions. That cable did not predict the collapse of the government or security forces before our departure. It was very focused and rightly focused on the work we were doing to try to get Afghans at risk out of the country, and pressing to speed up that effort. As it happens, a number of the things that were suggested in that very important cable, were things that we were in the process of doing. The very next day, I think the cable came in on the 13th of July, the 14th, we launched operation Allies Refuge, which of course [inaudible 00:18:25] entrain for some time, as well as the 24/7 task force to help those in the SIV program, get out and even to relocate them, which is not part of the program.
Secretary Blinken: (18:35)
That was a very important cable. I’m grateful for it and grateful that we have a process at the State Department where people can clearly express their views and differences on policy or recommendations on policy. That’s usually important.
Rep. Meeks: (18:50)
Gentleman’s time has expired. I Now recognize Representative Bill Keating of Massachusetts, who’s the chair of the Subcommittee on Europe, Energy, the Environment and Cyber, for five minutes.
Representative Bill Keating: (19:01)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you Mr. Secretary for your service. As head of the Department of State for our country, I want to thank all of your people for the work they have done. They stood side by side with our military, risking their lives, and helping people evacuate in the most dangerous situation. My sincere appreciation to everyone at state that was part of that. I’m also glad that you reinforced, as my conversations have, the renewed commitment, the strength, that is there with our transatlantic allies going forward on our mission, not just in the region, but also worldwide through our counter-terrorism efforts. I must say this though, this is a period of reassessment, I think, as we go forward, where we have some lessons learned, where we go embarking on a new mission, we’re trying to do the best in that area and so many fronts.
Representative Bill Keating: (20:03)
But there’s one relationship that really has always troubled me a great deal, certainly over the last couple of decades. And that’s our relationship with Pakistan. Pakistan has played an active and by so many accounts, a negative role in Afghan affairs for decades, not just recently, but for decades. From the very beginning, its inception, they helped in actually branding the name Taliban. By 2005, when the Taliban was reconstituting in east and south Afghanistan, and importantly across the border and Pakistan, and as Pakistan’s ISI, their Inter-Services Intelligence agency had such strong ties and cooperation with the Haqqani Network responsible for so many things, including the deaths of some of our soldiers. Even recently, when the Taliban took over, in the last month, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Khan claimed that Afghanistan had, “Broken the shackles of slavery.”
Representative Bill Keating: (21:20)
We used to always hear diplomatically that we have a complicated relationship with Afghanistan. I mean, with Pakistan. I would say it’s often duplicitous. As we go forward in the region, as we go forward dealing with our counter-terrorism missions, how do we reassess that relationship? How will we learn from their actions? When we go forward, what do we do? What are some of the big issues that we should have, stakes in the ground that we should have in dealing with Pakistan and the way they’ve acted over these decades?
Secretary Blinken: (22:02)
Thank you congressman. I think you’re very right to point at the role that Pakistan has played throughout the past 20 years and even before. It is one that is involved hedging its bets constantly about the future of Afghanistan. It’s one that’s involved harboring members of the Taliban, including the Haqqanis. It’s one that’s also involved at different points, cooperation with us on counter-terrorism. And so there are a number of things that have come into play. It has a multiplicity of interests, some that are in conflict, a clear conflict with ours when it comes to Afghanistan. It’s focused of course, as well on India and the role that India is playing in Afghanistan. It looks at it through that prism as well. All of these things I think have influenced what it has done, on many occasions detrimental to our interests, on other occasions in support of those interests.
Secretary Blinken: (23:08)
And so going forward, what we are looking at, what we have to look at is an insistence that every country, to include Pakistan, make good on the expectations that the international community has of what is required of a Taliban led government, if it’s to receive any legitimacy of any kind or any support going forward. To include ensuring freedom of travel, to include making good on its commitments on not allowing Afghanistan to be used as a haven for outward directed terrorism. To include upholding the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women and girls and minorities. To include allowing humanitarian assistance in. To include having a more representative government. And so Pakistan needs to line up with a broad majority of the international community in working toward those ends and in upholding. Those expectations.
Representative Bill Keating: (24:10)
Thank you Mr. Secretary. I’d like to-
Rep. Meeks: (24:11)
Gentleman’s time has expired.
Representative Bill Keating: (24:13)
Another time and thank you for your work with the US agency for global media. We’ll continue to work on that front and many others. [inaudible 00:24:20].
Rep. Meeks: (24:20)
Gentleman’s time has expired.
Representative Bill Keating: (24:21)
Rep. Meeks: (24:22)
I now recognize Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, for five minutes.
Representative Adam Kinzinger: (24:27)
Well, thank you Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary, thank you for being here and spending this time. It’s very important. Watching some of this debate, I think it’s important to remind people, yes, the Trump administration failed in the setup, and I think the Biden administration absolutely failed in the execution of this. I also want to make it clear, Mr. Secretary, we support the members of the State Department and their heroic action in the evacuation. I think the broader point is, they never should have been put in a place where they had to act heroically. We found ourselves many times, we talk about Bagram and leaving that, and I think that’s important to point out, but there was also moments where the US military with the 6,000 people that we sit in, could have defended Kabul proper. It was clear that the Taliban were not contending to move into Kabul as early as they did, but we put them in a position where they had to act heroically.
Representative Adam Kinzinger: (25:22)
We shouldn’t ask that of our State Department employees, even though we appreciate that they did. I also think it’s important to point out, there’s a lot of blame of the Afghan military. I certainly, as a military man myself, wish that the Afghan military would have helped. But keep in mind, prior to that there were assessments coming out that it was only a matter of time, maybe it’s six months, maybe it’s a year till the whole place collapse. We had pulled, we had built a military in our own image that relied on air power, that relied on logistics. And then we pulled our logistic and air power support from the Afghan military. As they received night letters from the Taliban saying, “We’re going to kill your family because the United States is vacating, they’re leaving you,” it’s to me as much as I would love for them to have stayed and taken a stand heroically, I don’t know many even of our allies and militaries that frankly could have stood in those conditions, in that kind of an onslaught.
Representative Adam Kinzinger: (26:19)
Let me ask you though, Mr. Secretary, you talk a little about the Taliban legitimacy and we’re going to see how they act. I want to ask you a question, because I’m not sure where that changed. At the beginning of all of this, we were talking about building a worldwide coalition to not recognize the Taliban, and all of a sudden this is on the table. Is the Taliban, the legitimate government of Afghanistan? If it’s not, would you consider what the Taliban have done in Afghanistan to be a coup d’etat?
Secretary Blinken: (26:50)
First let me just start by thanking you for your strong words in support of the men and women of the State Department. I very much appreciate them and appreciate you saying them. Second, with regard to the Taliban in your question, it is the defacto government of Afghanistan. Those are just the facts and-
Representative Adam Kinzinger: (27:13)
I don’t mean to interrupt, but I need to. Has there been any discussion of an Afghan government in exile? Vice president, even if the president had left, is there any discussion of that? Because this to me appears to be an armed military coup against the legitimate like the government of Afghanistan.
Secretary Blinken: (27:30)
Congressman, I will certainly look to see what the lawyers say. From where I sit this is the product [inaudible 00:27:37] of one side getting the upper hand in a civil war.
Representative Adam Kinzinger: (27:41)
Let me ask a couple of questions here on, on something too about that. If we look at the list of new key players in the regime, we have the current prime minister who was deputy during the 9/11 attacks, the current deputy prime minister, who served as number two defense official during the 9/11 attacks, the current foreign minister, who’s your counterpart, was the minister of culture and information during the 9/11 attacks. We have designated terrorists in key positions like those that are responsible for preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven in terror once again. We look at that list and we see those individuals who not only defended Al-Qaeda, but have committed crimes against women and vulnerable populations. I think anybody look at that and say, this is the same regime that failed to hand over Osama bin Laden 20 years ago. Well, let me just ask you, have these individuals committed to denouncing Al-Qaeda, to denouncing the Haqqani Network and ensuring that they will execute any attacks against them should they try to organize in their territory?
Secretary Blinken: (28:41)
Well, in the agreement that was secured by the previous administration, the Taliban now represented by these individuals, made commitments not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a launching ground for externally directed terrorism, whether by Al Qaeda or by anyone else. The big question now, and you’re right to point to it, is whether they will make good on that commitment? But of course we can’t and won’t rely on them to do that even as we insist that they do.
Representative Adam Kinzinger: (29:09)
Thank you. I’m sorry to cut you off-
Secretary Blinken: (29:11)
Representative Adam Kinzinger: (29:12)
Number one, we would need, we absolutely have to be executing any attack against Al Qaeda that we can, where we see them form. Secondarily, because I’m running out of time, let me stress to you to the importance of State Department working hand in hand, in a public and private way with these INGOs made up of former veterans that are doing stuff that unfortunately the government can no longer do, and let me encourage you to give them top cover and work with them to provide the assets necessary to get these people out. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Secretary, [inaudible 00:29:43].
Secretary Blinken: (29:43)
Let me just say, I really appreciate you saying that and putting the spotlight on that, because veterans groups are doing a remarkable work. We’re in close contact with them. I met with about 75 veterans organizations and groups virtually about a week ago. We followed up with a number of other meetings and we deeply appreciate the work that many veterans on this committee, as well as the organizations are doing. We’re looking to work even more closely together on that.
Representative Adam Kinzinger: (30:08)
Rep. Meeks: (30:08)
I now recognize Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, for five minutes.
Representative David Cicilline: (30:14)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. You explained that you inherited an agreement with a deadline, but no plan, a backlog of 17,000 special immigrant visas and a responsibility to evacuate safely, both Americans, and those who helped us in this effort. As a candidate, President Biden promised to end the war in Afghanistan and he kept his word. I agree with him, it was the right thing to do. While today’s hearing is focused on the US withdrawal, I think it would be a mistake to lose sight of the misjudgments and lessons learned over the long arc of the past 20 years. I hope Congress will have an opportunity to do its own self-reflection. But I want to begin Mr. Secretary, my question about the evacuation. You were cut off when you were trying to explain the vetting process and I wonder if you could quickly finish that answer about what the State Department did with respect to vetting people that were being evacuated out of Afghanistan.
Secretary Blinken: (31:10)
Sure. Two things… By the way, I very much agree with you. I heard the chairman say at the outset that this committee, among other things, will be focusing on the 20 year history of our engagement in Afghanistan. I think there are lots of lessons to be learned across the board, through every administration, including our own. With regard to the vetting, two things I would point out here. First, we spent a lot of time talking about the special immigrant visa program and our commitment and the commitment I know of so many members of this committee to the Afghans who worked with us, who sit side by side with us and the work that we did these first months of the administration to take a program that was in pretty much a dead stall and to put it into-
Representative David Cicilline: (31:52)
Mr. Secretary I don’t want to be impolite, but if you could just quickly say what you did, because I know how thorough it was. I just have two more things-
Secretary Blinken: (31:59)
Sure. Thank you. Simply put, when it comes to vetting people coming out of that…
Secretary Blinken: (32:03)
Thank you. Simply put, when it comes to vetting people coming out of Afghanistan, they go to transit countries. We negotiated agreements with more than a dozen countries to transit Afghans at those countries and we do security screenings there. We’ve sent customs and border patrol agents to all of those countries. We have the law enforcement, intelligence and security agencies all there doing vetting, biometrics, biographic information. Then they come to the United States, but before they’re resettled anywhere, they’re also at one of our military bases and any vetting continues there and under authorities that we’ve asked Congress for, including the ability for people who are resettled in a year’s time to apply for a green card, the vetting and background authorities will continue so that if anything comes up, we can continue to do that.
Representative David Cicilline: (32:49)
Great, thank you. As you know, Mr. Secretary, the LGBTQI community in Afghanistan is extremely vulnerable to punitive actions from the Taliban. It’s important in my view that we take steps to ensure that those who would be subjected to violence or worse because of their sexual orientation or gender identity are safe. The Council for Global Equality, the Human Rights Campaign and LGBTQI+ refugee support groups released a 10 point plan to protect Afghan LGBTQI refugees. My question is, have you seen this plan? And if so, is the administration prepared to implement it? Is it consistent with the presidential memorandum of early 2021 that speaks of the responsibility to help Afghan refugees that may get to neighboring states, as outlined in that memorandum?
Secretary Blinken: (33:32)
Well, thank you for rightly putting the spotlight on concerns about the LGBTQI+ community in Afghanistan and the particular threat that they may find themselves under. This is something that we are focused on. I have not personally seen the report that you referred to, I’m going to ask to see it. I’m sure that my team has, but I’ll take a look at that myself and I thank you for sending it to us.
Representative David Cicilline: (33:52)
Great, and I look forward to following up with you on that. Finally, Mr. Secretary I, the Brown University Cost of War project has compiled a sobering list of figures as it relates to post 9/11 conflicts, including Afghanistan. Trillions of dollars spent, over 900,000 lives lost, in Afghanistan 2,641 Americans, and 38 million people displaced around the world. Mr. Secretary, the war in Afghanistan went on as you know, for 20 years, leading to extraordinary costs in terms of dollars spent, lives lost and political capital expended. Taking stock of these costs, my question is, what do you think are the most important lessons after 20 years in Afghanistan and 20 years of post 9/11 conflict, that we should learn?
Secretary Blinken: (34:38)
I think all of us have to come together to do just that, to try to look at the lessons and then reflect those lessons in what we do together, going forward. To my mind at least, one of the lessons is, while we are very effective at dealing with terrorist threats to our country and eliminating them, which we did very successfully in Afghanistan, the idea of using military force to try to remake a society is something that is beyond our means and beyond our capacity. We need to think really hard about whether we want to engage in these enterprises going forward.
Secretary Blinken: (35:15)
You’re right to point to the cost. Let me just say very quickly that I think that Brown study concluded that on the basis of about $2 trillion being spent on Afghanistan over the last 20 years, when you include indirect cost, that averages out to $300 million a day for 20 years. And I know people will say, “Well, that wasn’t the case the last year or so,” but had we not ended the war and brought our people home, we would’ve had to have re-upped it to deal with the renewed attacks by the Taliban, to deal with the onslaught nationwide, and those costs would’ve gone right back up again. We have to ask ourselves very hard questions about whether that is the right way to spend our money.
Rep. Meeks: (35:56)
Representative David Cicilline: (35:57)
Thank you Mr. Secretary.
Rep. Meeks: (35:58)
Gentleman’s time is expired. I now recognize Representative Lee Zeldin of New York for five minutes.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (36:03)
Mr. Secretary, one of my colleagues claimed earlier in this hearing that the last administration’s agreement with the Taliban was unconditional, that was false. In fact, you sir, actually started to outline some of those conditions and you were stopped. To recap Mr. Secretary, the last administration’s agreement with the Taliban was conditions-based, correct?
Secretary Blinken: (36:26)
The conditions that you refer to included a commitment not to allow Afghanistan to harbor outwardly directed terrorists. It had very loose [crosstalk 00:36:36]… Let me just be clear though, to respond to your question [crosstalk 00:36:39].
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (36:39)
[crosstalk 00:36:39] earlier, but the question is it was a conditions-based agreement, correct?
Secretary Blinken: (36:43)
Yes, except that those conditions were so loose, particularly with regard to commitments it made [crosstalk 00:36:49].
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (36:48)
You can criticize [crosstalk 00:36:50] all you want, Mr. Secretary, I just wanted you to answer the question. Next, are you aware that President Biden says in the transcript of his George Stephanopoulos interview that he would have withdrawn from Afghanistan regardless of that prior agreement?
Secretary Blinken: (37:03)
Yes, that’s right, but not necessarily in the time, place and manner that we did, which was imposed upon us by that agreement.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (37:12)
[crosstalk 00:37:12]. On July 8th, as Congressman Issa referred to earlier in this hearing, President Biden said, “The likelihood that there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country, is highly unlikely.” That is a very different prediction than what the US Intelligence Community actually was saying. Mr. Secretary, where did the President get the highly unlikely intelligence estimate from?
Secretary Blinken: (37:36)
As the Intelligence Community has actually said, including in the days leading up to the Taliban takeover, they were not, and no one was predicting the rapid collapse of the government and the security forces.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (37:46)
Where did highly unlikely come from, Mr. Secretary?
Secretary Blinken: (37:46)
Throughout the year, the Intelligence Community looked at a range of scenarios, worst case to best case, about the durability, resilience of the government security forces. In the Spring time, it was anticipated to be [crosstalk 00:37:59].
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (37:58)
[crosstalk 00:37:58] my time, the question is [crosstalk 00:38:00] get highly unlikely from?
Secretary Blinken: (38:04)
Again, based on what the Intelligence Community was saying and the military. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs has said that no one anticipated that the government or the security forces would collapse in 11 days. Nothing he saw, suggested it.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (38:16)
[crosstalk 00:38:16] Mr. Secretary. It would be good though if you were giving answers that were consistent with the answers that we were getting behind a closed door briefing that we had with you and others. What is the number of Americans who are in Afghanistan as of the last update you received?
Secretary Blinken: (38:32)
Congressman, going back to this weekend, we had about 100 American citizens in contact with us who seek to leave Afghanistan. Those are the Americans we’re working with.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (38:45)
Do you have an exact number?
Secretary Blinken: (38:47)
I can’t give you an exact number. We were talking about this a little bit earlier, it’s really a snapshot at any given moment, because what happens is-
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (38:54)
That’s why I asked you, as of the last update you received.
Secretary Blinken: (38:56)
As of the last update, it was about a hundred.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (38:59)
Okay, how many green card holders?
Secretary Blinken: (39:02)
Green card holders is something that we don’t track directly. What we’ve done is we’ve solicited people, if they are green card holders, to let us know. I think the best estimates are that there are several thousand green card holders in Afghanistan.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (39:15)
How many SIV applicants?
Secretary Blinken: (39:18)
SIV applicants, those are numbers that we’re working on right now as people come out of Afghanistan, some of them in the United States already, others at these transit points, we’re collecting all of that information. The overwhelming majority of Afghans who’ve come out are Afghans who are at risk in one way or another. Some of them will be SIVs, applicants, others will be people who are eligible for refugee visas. Still others will be at risk in some fashion. We are putting all those numbers together and we should have that in the next couple of weeks.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (39:46)
Yeah. I mean, this was fatally flawed, poorly executed. We had the loss of US service members as a result. We should not have been operating off of an arbitrary July 31st deadline. Instead, what we should’ve done was tell the Taliban that we’re going to leave Afghanistan when we’re done bringing every last American home, not operating off of some arbitrary date. We shouldn’t have collapsed Bagram when we did, we should have been relying on the Taliban to provide security at the airport. We shouldn’t have been allowing billions of dollars worth of US weapons and equipment to get turned over to Afghanistan.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (40:17)
The administration should not have been lying and misleading the American public, like when the White House press secretary is standing out there to the press and to the American public and saying that Americans aren’t stranded, even though we all know that they are. I’m concerned that this administration, with incompetency, is exposing a vulnerability that other countries… Like we see North Korea now testing long range missiles, we see Iran enhancing uranium enrichment. What happens when China and Russia and Hamas and Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, they continue to press forward because we have an administration that doesn’t know how to confront an adversary, understanding that they do not respect weakness, they only respect strength? It is so greatly unfortunate, the consequences, and I believe that you sir, should resign. That would be leadership. I yield back
Secretary Blinken: (41:06)
To the contrary, congressmen, I believe that there’s nothing that our strategic competitors like China or Russia, or our adversaries, like Iran, like North Korea, would’ve liked more than for President Biden to have re-upped the war in Afghanistan for another 5, 10, 20 years, to be bogged down in that conflict. Nothing they would’ve liked more, and we’re now able, as a result of the decision the President made, that none of his predecessors made, to end the war after 20 years to ensure that a third generation of Americans didn’t have to go off and fight and die in Afghanistan. While bringing 125,000 people out, we are now in a much better position to confront the challenges and threats that we actually face in 2021.
Rep. Lee Zeldin: (41:49)
Rep. Meeks: (41:49)
Gentleman’s time is expired. I now recognize Representative Ami Bera of California, the chair of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Nonproliferation for five minutes.
Rep. Ami Bera: (42:01)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and Mr. Secretary once again I want to reiterate our thanks as a committee for your appearing before us, answering all the questions and giving every member a chance. That is not something your predecessor did very easily. Look, I agree with President Biden’s decision to withdraw. I think most of the American public agrees with that decision. I sat in many hearings, sat in many classified and open briefings as we were looking at various scenarios of what that withdrawal looks like, what the capabilities of the Afghan government were, and unfortunately the worst case scenario played out. The images that we saw coming out of Afghanistan were painful, frankly, in the last few weeks of August.
Rep. Ami Bera: (42:53)
I do think that the men and women in the military and State Department in difficult certain stances stepped up. I do think the logistics of that airlift and getting the numbers of American citizens, visa holders, SIVs, vulnerable Afghans, out in such a short period of time, was remarkable. I think we all mourn the loss of life of Afghan civilians, but also the 13 men and women that were serving our country and meeting the mission. There will be time to go through and do the oversight and get a sense of where did our estimates go wrong? Where were the flaws? But at this moment in time, knowing that we still have American citizens there, knowing that we still have vulnerable Afghans and so forth, I really do want our focus to be getting those folks to safety, the visa holders, the SIVs and others.
Rep. Ami Bera: (43:49)
I won’t ask you to guarantee a commitment that you’ll get everyone out, nobody can make that promise. But what I will ask is, working with my office, working with the various congressional offices, the men and women, State Department, that we will use every resource that we can in a difficult situation, in a challenging security situation on the ground, to do the best job possible to get every American citizen, visa holder, SIV and vulnerable Afghan out to safety. Can I get that promise that we’ll do [crosstalk 00:44:21].
Secretary Blinken: (44:21)
Absolutely, you have that commitment, and I welcome working with every member of this committee to do just that.
Rep. Ami Bera: (44:27)
Great, thank you. Your staff, and again, the men and women within the State Department and elsewhere, again in trying circumstances, have been very readily available to work with us. Again, we’ve submitted over 10,000 names of folks, just given the size of our population, the community. Secondly, and we haven’t talked about this is, as I mentioned earlier, we have the largest Afghan refugee population in the country and we’re proud of that. We’ve welcomed these men and women. We’ve got great resettlement agencies that are working with folks, but we’ve also got real challenges just because of the rapidity of folks leaving country and arriving, after being vetted, in the United States.
Rep. Ami Bera: (45:12)
Many of these folks now are coming as humanitarian parolees under a visa status that doesn’t necessarily have the resources that are available. I know we will be working on a budget supplement [inaudible 00:45:24] to help provide the resources, to get medical resources, get visa resources, and ramp up your staffing at the State Department to process these refugees. I would hope that the men and women on this committee, Democrat, Republican, as well as everyone in the House and Senate, overwhelmingly support the supplemental requests that will be coming as hopefully within the next few weeks, to provide those resources.
Rep. Ami Bera: (45:53)
Because the one thing, when I talked to our veterans community, and many that served in Afghanistan and are wondering about that service. The one thing we can do to make them whole is to welcome these folks that served them, worked side by side, often saved their lives, and really do everything we can to get those folks to safety. Those that are coming to the United States, help them reassemble their lives. Mr. Secretary, I would imagine that supplemental’s coming, we’ve already heard some top line numbers the president’s asked for. Are there specifics that, from your vantage point with the men and women who work for you, that you see on that horizon?
Secretary Blinken: (46:36)
Yeah, thank you so much for flagging that, let me just say very quickly. Yes, we’re going to be looking for support from all of you on this, and particularly a few things. For Afghans who are paroled into the United States to receive the same benefits that refugees do, so that they have some ongoing support, the ability to work in the United States, HHS benefits that they wouldn’t otherwise get. We’d also like them to be able to apply for a green card after one year of being in the United States. And there’s some significant funds that will be requested to support both the efforts that we’ve already made at the different transit points, where we’ve incurred significant expenses, as well as to continue to relocate people, to bring them to transit points, into the United States, process them, et cetera. So that is coming. In fact, we need to get this done quickly in the CR, I think, so we have just a few weeks to do it, and I really welcome your support and everyone’s support for that. Thank you.
Rep. Meeks: (47:37)
I now recognize Representative Ann Wagner of Missouri who’s the vice ranking member of the full committee, for five minutes.
Rep. Ann Wagner: (47:43)
Secretary Blinken, I represent the people of Missouri’s second congressional district and today I’m also here on behalf of the family of Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz of our region. Let me tell you about this heroic and selfless young man. Lance Corporal Schmitz from Wentzville, Missouri, was 20 years old when he lost his life with a terrorist attack at the airport in Kabul, just days before Joe Biden’s arbitrary deadline of August 31st. He was passionate about his military service, he was totally committed to making a difference as a US Marine and had gotten his parents’ permission to enlist at just 17 years old. I don’t believe that this hearing will allow us to truly understand why he and his fellow military service men and women were killed on August 26th, 2021. His family, their families, and all Americans, deserve answers, sir.
Rep. Ann Wagner: (48:54)
I am outraged to hear this administration claim its retreat from Afghanistan, it’s surrender was a success. How could anyone say that 13 precious young men and women who lost their lives, is a success? I’m not asking for my own peace of mind, I’m asking on behalf of the families, they’re burying their sons and their daughters this week and they deserve accountability, and they deserve transparency, and they deserve answers. The Biden administration outsourced the security of our military stationed at the Kabul Airport to the Taliban. It was a total betrayal. You put the lives of our men and women in the hands of a brutal terrorist organization after you claimed that the Taliban would never even be in charge of the country. Then you said they would never be in charge of Kabul. You said we would never leave Americans and allies behind. It was lie after lie.
Rep. Ann Wagner: (50:16)
President Biden wanted out at any cost and that cost, sir, was 13 American lives and $85 billion in equipment, our Bagram air base, our United States embassy, our credibility with the allies and the Afghans who stood and fought with us, and our national security and safety of our homeland. Make no mistake, Mr. Secretary, the Biden administration’s egregiously inept withdrawal has left America and the world a much less safe place 20 years after September 11th.
Rep. Ann Wagner: (51:08)
Secretary Blinken, will you honor these families and give the American people the answers they deserve in the wake of this ongoing disaster? Who will be held accountable? In your opening statement you said, “The Taliban,” you said several times, ” The Taliban made it clear we had to withdraw. The Taliban made it clear, or they would escalate.” Now we hear in testimony President Putin was dictating our counter-intelligence, and you tell us NATO made us do it, Trump made us do it. The Taliban made it clear. Do you take any responsibility, Secretary Blinken, for this disastrous withdrawal, or do you still want to call it a success?
Secretary Blinken: (52:07)
Congresswoman, I’m responsible for the decisions that I make. I’m responsible for the actions of the State Department. I’m responsible for looking at any lessons to be taken from those decisions and those actions. I’m also responsible for being accountable for those decisions and actions.
Rep. Ann Wagner: (52:29)
[crosstalk 00:52:29] asked you a simple question [crosstalk 00:52:30].
Secretary Blinken: (52:30)
And if you let me finish, please?
Rep. Ann Wagner: (52:31)
[crosstalk 00:52:31] my time [crosstalk 00:52:32].
Secretary Blinken: (52:33)
The way that I’m accountable is doing exactly what I’m doing today, which is to you and through you to the American people, to hold myself accountable [crosstalk 00:52:41] for all those decisions, and we made the right decision in ending America’s longest war. We made the right decision in not sending a third generation of Americans to fight and die in Afghanistan. We did the right thing by our citizens in working feverishly to get every one of them out. We did the right thing by 125,000 Afghans, to bring them to safety. And now we’re working to do the right thing to hold the Taliban to the expectations of the international community, to ensure people can continue to travel freely, to ensure that the rights of Afghans are upheld, to ensure that they make good on commitments they’ve made on counter-terrorism. That’s what we’re doing.
Rep. Ann Wagner: (53:16)
I hope you [crosstalk 00:53:18].
Rep. Malinowski: (53:18)
Gentlewoman’s time is expired. I now recognize Representative Castro of Texas for five minutes.
Rep. Castro: (53:24)
Thank you, Chairman, and thank you Secretary for your testimony today. Thank you for your work and the work of the many very devoted employees at the State Department. I want to talk to you for a second about a way that Congress can be helpful in that work. Secretary Blinken, the 9/11 Commission’s report held that only 56% of the Bush administration’s senior national security positions were filled at the beginning of September, 2001, impeding its ability to respond to crises. Today only 26% of the State Department Senate confirm positions are filled.
Rep. Castro: (54:01)
This isn’t because President Biden hasn’t presented nominees, it’s because a single senator has thrown a tantrum and blocked these nominees from getting a vote and prevented national security positions from being filled. So I’m going to ask you a few yes or no questions regarding very important staffing at the State Department. Do we have a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of state for conflict and stabilization operations who would inform US policy in war zones like Afghanistan?
Secretary Blinken: (54:32)
We do not.
Rep. Castro: (54:34)
Do we have a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs who would cover Afghanistan?
Secretary Blinken: (54:42)
We do not.
Rep. Castro: (54:43)
Do we have a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs who would guide US policy towards China, a country deeply involved in South Asia?
Secretary Blinken: (54:56)
We do not.
Rep. Castro: (54:57)
For African affairs?
Secretary Blinken: (55:00)
We do not.
Rep. Castro: (55:01)
European and Eurasian affairs?
Secretary Blinken: (55:04)
We do not.
Rep. Castro: (55:04)
Western hemisphere affairs? We do not.
Secretary Blinken: (55:08)
International organization affairs, international narcotics and law enforcement affairs, and educational and cultural affairs?
Secretary Blinken: (55:14)
We do not.
Rep. Castro: (55:16)
For each of these positions, President Biden has nominated a candidate. The candidate has testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, been vetted and recommended by that committee for a vote, only to be delayed by a hold by Senator Ted Cruz of my home state of Texas. This has delayed many other positions as well, and is denying you the team you need to advance our nation’s interest abroad and protect our own national security.
Rep. Castro: (55:49)
Despite this, the State Department rose to the occasion. Over 120,000 people were successfully evacuated from Afghanistan in a short period of time, in one of the biggest humanitarian operations the United States has ever seen. But the work continues and having Senate-confirmed people in these positions will be critical as we marshal our allies for what comes next in Afghanistan. I want to ask you, Mr. Secretary, as you’ve done this very hard work and your people at the department are stretched thin because the Senate has not confirmed these nominees, what would you say to Senator Cruz who’s single-handedly blocking key national security appointments and jeopardizing our national security?
Secretary Blinken: (56:35)
Look, I would just simply ask the senator and ask the Senate to move forward in confirming our nominees, virtually all of whom went through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and were sent to the floor, and that’s where they now lie. To your point, we need all these people, we need them to do the business of the United States, we need them to advance the interests of the United States, especially at this critical time. So I hope very much that we can work through this very, very quickly and I would hope that the Senate can get our nominees confirmed.
Rep. Castro: (57:10)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I’m going to ask another question on Pakistan and you may have to take some of it for the record, but I want to get to the question real quick.
Secretary Blinken: (57:18)
Rep. Castro: (57:18)
I want to follow up on Rep. Keating’s line of questioning about Pakistan. As you just noted, over the years Pakistan has harbored Taliban leaders and provided other forms of support to the group. As my colleague noted, Pakistan’s leader cheered the Taliban taking over Afghanistan. You began discussing what we will be looking at with Pakistan moving forward, and on that note, Pakistan is currently a major non-NATO ally of the United States, giving it a number of benefits, including privileged access to US arm sales. And so based on their past actions, our conversation today, all of it, I want to ask you, given its longtime support for the Taliban, is it time for the United States to reassess its relationship with Pakistan and reassess its status as a major non-NATO ally?
Secretary Blinken: (58:11)
Thank you for the reasons you cited. As well as others, this is one of the things that we’re going to be looking at in the days and weeks ahead, the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years, but also the role that we would want to see it play in the coming years. And what it will take for it to do that.
Rep. Castro: (58:33)
Thank you, I yield back [inaudible 00:58:34].
Rep. Meeks: (58:34)
Gentleman’s time is expired. I now recognize Representative Brian Mast of Florida for five minutes.
Rep. Brian Mast: (58:40)
Mr. Secretary, as the leaked transcript, as you referred to it, says, did President Biden work with the coward exiled president of Afghanistan to manipulate the intelligence about the Taliban?
Secretary Blinken: (58:56)
What the President said to then President Ghani in private is exactly what he said in public, that the issue was not whether Afghanistan had the capacity to withstand the Taliban, it’s whether it had the will and the plan to do so. He urged him [crosstalk 00:59:11]-
Rep. Brian Mast: (59:10)
You’re saying the transcript is a lie, it’s false, it’s incorrect.
Secretary Blinken: (59:13)
… that plan, and to bring people together in unity.
Rep. Brian Mast: (59:14)
He did not work… You’re saying it’s false, it’s a lie, it’s incorrect, he did not work to tamp down the intelligence on the Taliban?
Secretary Blinken: (59:21)
Rep. Brian Mast: (59:22)
So the transcript is incorrect, that’s your testimony today?
Secretary Blinken: (59:27)
The intelligence that we had, we’ve already discussed at some length about what the assessments were of the Taliban and its capacity to take over the country.
Rep. Brian Mast: (59:38)
I think that everybody looking for an explanation about what happened and how everybody got it so wrong, how your administration got it so wrong, needs to look at that as the most likely explanation, asking the president to manipulate the intelligence of what was actually going on with the Taliban. I’m going to tell you the 13 families that deserve most to really hear the honest answers on that, it’s these families, Marine Lance Corporal Kareem Nikoui, his family deserves to truly know that. Marine Corporal Daegan Page, his family truly deserves to know if that’s why they are missing their son, because intelligence was manipulated. Marine Lance Corporal Rylee McCollum, 20, wife expecting their first child. Sister said he was going to be the best dad ever, they deserve to know if that’s what happened and that’s why everything went so wrong.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:00:26)
Marine Sergeant Nicole Gee, 23 years old, you can see her there holding a young child, her family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, because that intelligence was manipulated. Marine Lance Corporal David Espinoza, just 20 years old, family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, is because the intelligence was manipulated. Marine Corporal Humberto Sanchez, just 22 years old, mother said, “My kid was a hero,” that’s what was said. That’s what his mother said, deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, because the intelligence got manipulated. Marine Lance Corporal Jared Schmitz, just 20 years old, family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong. Marine Corporal Hunter Lopez, just 22, son of two sheriffs, planned to follow in their footsteps. Their family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, is because you all worked to manipulate the intelligence of what was going on on the ground there.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:01:22)
Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Darin Hoover. His family said, “I love you son, check in on us. We will try to make you proud.” They deserve to know if that’s what happened, if that’s how everything went so wrong in Afghanistan. Marine Corps Sergeant [Johanny Rosario Pichardo 01:01:40], family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, because you all worked to manipulate the intelligence of what was going on with the Taliban. Marine Lance Corporal Dylan Merola, just 20, family said, “He always had a smile on his face, was the kindest person.” They deserve to know if that’s why everything went so wrong, because you all manipulated intelligence. Army Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss. “The ultimate honor he could give was to give back to his country. He would not be sorry, he would not regret it,” that’s what his family said. They deserve to know if you manipulated intelligence, if President Biden manipulated intelligence, and that’s what led to everything going so wrong. Navy Corpsman Maxton Soviak, just 22. His family deserves to know if that’s why everything went so wrong.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:02:29)
We deserve hearings on what’s going on with that leaked transcript. We deserve to know why there are others that remain in Afghanistan. Mark Frerichs, Navy veteran, disappeared in Khost Province January 30th, 2020. We deserve to know what’s going on with his relief. These are things that have to be answered for. I do not believe whatsoever what you’re saying about the administration not working to manipulate that intelligence. To me, that is the most logical, the most logical explanation of how so many in the Intelligence Community got this so wrong about what was going to happen in Afghanistan, why it would seem somehow logical for President Biden to leave the “most advanced military weaponry”, why some would not speak out against that.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:03:14)
If they were getting the false intelligence because it was coming from the top down to manipulate it. In my opinion, that’s absolutely aid and comfort to the enemy. I absolutely wonder if you were complicit in this as well. I find it hard to believe that President Biden would do that without you being aware of this, and these are things that we deserve to know better answers, have better hearings on this. I do not believe a word that you’re saying on this.
Secretary Blinken: (01:03:38)
Simply put, Congressman-
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:03:38)
I do not wish to hear from you. I’m not yielding you a moment of time.
Secretary Blinken: (01:03:41)
Simply put, Congressman, what you said is dead wrong.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:03:42)
I’m not yielding you a moment of time. I don’t wish to hear your lies.
Secretary Blinken: (01:03:45)
There was a [crosstalk 01:03:45] manipulation of intelligence, period.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:03:46)
We’ve heard your lies when you step up in front of the camera, not listening to you and don’t wish to hear your lies.
Secretary Blinken: (01:03:55)
You have all been regularly apprised of the intelligence assessments.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:03:55)
No thank you for your lies.
Secretary Blinken: (01:03:56)
Rep. Meeks: (01:03:56)
Gentlemen, the gentleman will suspend.
Secretary Blinken: (01:03:56)
[crosstalk 01:03:56] not true.
Rep. Meeks: (01:03:56)
The gentleman’s time-
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:03:57)
[crosstalk 01:03:57] not looking to hear your lies.
Rep. Meeks: (01:03:57)
The gentleman’s time has expired.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:03:59)
And so has the Secretary’s.
Rep. Meeks: (01:04:00)
The gentleman’s time has expired.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:04:01)
Yeah, and so has the Secretary’s.
Rep. Meeks: (01:04:02)
The Secretary can answer the…
Rep. Meeks: (01:04:03)
The gentleman’s time has expired-
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:04:03)
Yes, so has the secretary’s-
Rep. Meeks: (01:04:03)
The secretary can answer the question.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:04:04)
I didn’t ask him a question.
Rep. Meeks: (01:04:05)
You did ask her a question.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:04:06)
I don’t want to hear from the secretary-
Rep. Meeks: (01:04:07)
The gentleman’s time has expired.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:04:08)
He lies to us when he steps in front of the camera.
Rep. Meeks: (01:04:12)
The gentleman’s time has expired. Mr. Secretary. The gentleman’s time has… Answering… The gentleman’s time has expired.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:04:22)
People need to use condoms-
Rep. Meeks: (01:04:23)
The gentleman’s time has expired. We’re here to hear from the secretary.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:04:28)
Not to hear lies.
Rep. Meeks: (01:04:30)
The gentleman’s time has expired. Mr. Secretary, if you wish, you may answer the question.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:04:35)
We don’t need to hear lies.
Secretary Blinken: (01:04:37)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Just to respond briefly. What the Congressman said is simply wrong. Period. Second, I think virtually every member of this committee has had access to or been apprised of the intelligence assessments throughout the year. And you know what they were, you know what they are. And we will continue to provide those assessments in those briefings in the weeks and months ahead. You’ve heard the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff say that he has not seen anything that indicated to him or to anyone else that the Afghan government and military would collapse in 11 days. The Director of National Intelligence has said that even in the days leading up to the Taliban takeover, intelligence agencies did not say collapse was imminent. This unfolded more quickly than we anticipated, including in the intelligence community. And I could go on. So what has been said and alleged is simply not true.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:05:39)
And that would be-
Rep. Meeks: (01:05:40)
I now recognized the gentlewoman from Nevada, Ms. Dina Titus from Nevada is now recognized for five minutes.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:05:47)
That’s why it all adds up.
Rep. Meeks: (01:05:48)
The gentleman’s time is expired. And the gentleman will cease immediately.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:05:58)
He definitely proved the point-
Rep. Meeks: (01:05:58)
The gentleman will cease immediately.
Rep. Brian Mast: (01:05:58)
Well, he proved the point. Thank you for letting him prove it. I appreciate it.
Rep. Meeks: (01:06:00)
I now recognize the gentlelady from Nevada, Representative Dina Titus for five minutes.
Rep. Dina Titus: (01:06:09)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Secretary for being here.
Rep. Dina Titus: (01:06:13)
I’d like to go back to a point made by Mr. Connolly on the Doha Agreement. I wonder if you would discuss for us, what impact do you think that agreement may have had on the morale of the Afghan defense forces and on the unity of the Afghan government?
Secretary Blinken: (01:06:32)
Oh, that agreement committed the United States to leave Afghanistan by May 1st of this year. And so that certainly factored into the thinking and concerns of the Afghan government and of the Afghan security forces. The extent of that impact, hard to know for sure, but certainly that had to factor into their thinking and as well as into their concerns.
Rep. Dina Titus: (01:07:01)
I believe so and that led to that perhaps quicker than realized collapse that occurred that we didn’t anticipate. Just a couple of other questions. We’ve been hearing about domestic and foreign journalists being abused by the Taliban and also some of the NGO or healthcare workers or just a non-government and humanitarian workers. I wonder if there’s anything going on, any talks between the US and any of our international partners of how to defend them, to be assured that they are able to continue their work once we’re gone.
Secretary Blinken: (01:07:39)
Yes, very much so. Two things. One, we’ve been working very hard to make sure that basic humanitarian assistance can still get into Afghanistan working with and through NGOs, working with and through the United Nations agencies and also putting in place mechanisms to make sure that that assistance is used in the way we intended to be used, that is to the benefit of the Afghan people, the recipients, not the Taliban-led government. Second, we’ve been working full time around the world to bring country after country on board with the expectations that we’re setting of the conduct of a Taliban-led government to include upholding the basic rights of the Afghan people to include women and minorities.
Secretary Blinken: (01:08:25)
And we have put in place a UN security council resolution, setting those clear expectations. More than a hundred countries around the world, led by our efforts have signed on to that. And to the extent the Taliban is looking for any kind of legitimacy or any kind of support from the international community, that will not be forthcoming in any fashion, if it’s not making good on those basic expectations and on commitments it itself has made. So going forward, its conduct will define its relationship with the rest of the world.
Rep. Dina Titus: (01:09:01)
Thank you. They seek to be legitimate, I know. But in the meantime, one of the challenges they’re facing, of course, is of the economy and that’s not new. That existed under the Ghani government, but we see Pakistan and China rapidly positioning themselves to take advantage of this destabilized economy. I wonder how that’s going to impact the US and US international relations, especially in light of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund raising distributions of fund to Afghanistan. Could you talk about that?
Secretary Blinken: (01:09:37)
Yeah, you’re certainly right to point to that. And the fact of the matter is though that there is a security council resolution that should also bind Russia and China in their conduct going forward. The international community over the last years was providing every year about 75% of the Afghan government’s budget. Needless to say, that’s been frozen. Virtually all of Afghanistan’s foreign reserves are here in the United States. They are frozen. International financial institutions are not going forward with their own assistance or the ability for Afghanistan to engage in international financial transactions. And so all of that is on the ledger when it comes to what we can do to have the Taliban meet the expectations that have been set by the international community when it comes to how it conducts itself.
Rep. Dina Titus: (01:10:30)
Well, thank you, Mr. Secretary. I yield back.
Rep. Meeks: (01:10:32)
Gentlelady yields back. I now recognize Representative Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, who’s the ranking member of the subcommittee on Europe, Energy and the Environment and Cyber for five minutes.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:10:48)
Mr. Secretary, just to get to the core of what your philosophy is on national and international security, sir, do you believe in the maxim and the precept of, “The stronger that we exert ourselves overseas, the safer we are here in America,” i.e. peace through strength?
Secretary Blinken: (01:11:07)
I believe first, the stronger we are at home, the stronger we’re going to be overseas and that requires a unity. It requires coming together. It requires making investments in ourselves and I hope we can see those forward together. Second, to your point around the world, it requires absolutely having the strongest military and defense in the world, but it also requires using all the tools at our disposal, to include our diplomacy, to include our economic tools, to include political tools, cultural tools, all of that is in the mix and all of that defines our strength in the world.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:11:42)
Mr. Secretary, do you believe that what the world witnessed over the past several weeks in Afghanistan was American strength?
Secretary Blinken: (01:11:50)
I believe that what the world witnessed was the President ending a war that had gone on for 20 years.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:11:55)
But did they witness American strength over the past few weeks?
Secretary Blinken: (01:11:59)
They witnessed an extraordinary effort that no other country could or would have made under the most extreme conditions in bringing 125,000 people out to safety, in making sure that we stood by our allies and partners in helping them to get out as well. And things we’ve heard from allies and partners around the world is no other country could or would have done what we did.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:12:21)
Mr. Secretary, I recently left Ukraine just a few days ago. I returned. My next step-
Rep. Meeks: (01:12:25)
Just hold off one second. We’re having technical problems. I don’t see the secretary that’s on. We should be able to see him visually. And I want to make sure you get all of the time to ask the questions that you are putting forward and his response.
Secretary Blinken: (01:12:39)
Mr. Chairman, can you hear me?
Rep. Meeks: (01:12:40)
We hear you, Mr. Secretary, but we don’t see you.
Secretary Blinken: (01:12:43)
Yeah. It looks like the image is frozen here. So let’s see if we can…
Rep. Meeks: (01:12:47)
Yeah, let’s see if we could fix that. The technical staff is working on it and I want to make sure Mr. Fitzgerald gets all the time. Mr. Fitzpatrick. What did I said? Mr. Fitzpatrick.
Secretary Blinken: (01:12:59)
How’s that, Mr. Chairman?
Rep. Meeks: (01:13:02)
Okay. I don’t have a visual of the secretary. Now. Okay.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:13:07)
Can I get my time reclaimed, sir?
Rep. Meeks: (01:13:10)
Yes, let’s give Mr. Fitzpatrick his… How much time when I stopped him?
Speaker 1: (01:13:15)
Should be for four minutes and 10 seconds.
Rep. Meeks: (01:13:18)
No, when I stopped… I continued the questions that you had asked, but when I stopped… four minutes? Okay.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:13:26)
Rep. Meeks: (01:13:26)
We can resume from there.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:13:27)
Mr. Secretary, I just returned from Ukraine two days ago. My next stop will be Taiwan.
Secretary Blinken: (01:13:32)
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:13:32)
Sir, these people are scared to death. They’re scared to death. So can we get you on the record here today, sir, to tell this committee, this Congress in our nation, that we will unequivocally and unapologetically do whatever it takes, whatever it takes to have the backs of our friends in Ukraine and our friends in Taiwan, our friends in Ukraine in the event of Russian aggression, our friends in Taiwan in the event of Chinese aggression?
Secretary Blinken: (01:13:55)
Absolutely. We stand by our commitments to both countries.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:13:58)
And we will do whatever it takes to defend them?
Secretary Blinken: (01:14:00)
We will stand by our commitments.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:14:02)
Does that involve [crosstalk 01:14:04].
Secretary Blinken: (01:14:04)
Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act. We’ll stand by the commitments we have to Ukraine, including by the way, commitments that the President and President Zelensky discussed and put out just about a week, maybe two weeks ago.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:14:18)
Sir, I can tell you, I just left there. They’re scared to death and they questioned the commitment of this country. So I will take you at your word that we will do whatever it takes to defend Taiwan and Ukraine. Next question, not talking about the arms ammunitions. I’m talking about the heavy equipment, the tanks, the Humvees, a Black Hawk helicopters, the aircraft. Sir, all this is GPS tracked. We can identify this, where it’s at. Why did we not destroy it or don’t we destroy it now?
Secretary Blinken: (01:14:45)
Thank you. So let me say this. I know my colleagues from the defense department, the Joint Chiefs, et cetera, will have an opportunity to speak to you, to speak to Congress in the weeks ahead. They’re the experts on this. About since 2004, roughly, something like $80 billion in defense articles was provided to Afghanistan. So that goes back over the last roughly-
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:15:09)
Sir, I’m sorry. I’m only asking you about the GPS tracking. We know the location of this equipment that we have now seen fall into the hands of terrorists. Are we going to destroy it or not?
Secretary Blinken: (01:15:19)
Much of this equipment is either inoperable or will soon be inoperable because it can’t be maintained. As I’ve seen it, based on what I’ve heard from my colleagues, there is nothing of strategic value that is that would threaten us or threaten Afghanistan’s neighbors. Having said that, I am not the expert on this and I would really defer to my colleagues at the Pentagon.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:15:38)
Mr. Secretary, do you believe that America should ever in any way capitulate to terrorists?
Secretary Blinken: (01:15:44)
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:15:45)
Do you believe, sir, that allowing the Taliban to run perimeter HKIA with American troops on the inside of that perimeter, relying on the Taliban to keep ISIS out and American citizens, passport holders on the outside of the perimeter, relying on the Taliban to get in that that is capitulating to terrorists?
Secretary Blinken: (01:16:04)
The reality is that the government and Afghan national security forces collapsed. The reality is that the Taliban took over Kabul, as well as much of the country. That was the reality we were dealing with and the judgment of all of us starting with our military commanders, including the people on the ground, was that our job was to work to get as many people out as possible, American citizens, Afghans at risk, and because the Taliban controlled the city that required some coordination with them to get people through and to the airport.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:16:38)
Sir, to an 18 year old Afghani girl who may be watching this hearing today, who was born after 9/11, who knows nothing of what it’s like to live under Taliban rule, who had hopes and dreams, who’s in school, who wanted to be a female journalist to help women and young girls rise up in Afghanistan, who now feels betrayed by the actions of this administration, what is your message to her?
Secretary Blinken: (01:17:00)
I spoke to a number of young Afghan women, including 18, 19 21 year olds just about a week ago in Doha, actually in Ramstein, Germany-
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:17:14)
Do you believe their lives are at risk right now?
Secretary Blinken: (01:17:14)
Where many relocated. And we talked about their futures. We talked about the futures of Afghan women and girls-
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:17:22)
Under the Taliban?
Secretary Blinken: (01:17:23)
Who live in Afghanistan.
Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick: (01:17:24)
Under the Taliban?
Secretary Blinken: (01:17:25)
And we talked about the ongoing commitment that the United States has and countries around the world have to do everything we can to support those women and girls going forward.
Rep. Meeks: (01:17:38)
Gentleman’s time has expired. I know recognize Representative Ted Lieu of California for five minutes.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:17:44)
Thank you, Chairman. And thank you, Secretary Blinken for your public service. When I served in active duty in the United States Air Force, I participated in Operation Pacific Haven where we airlifted thousands and thousands Kurds out of Northern Iraq because Saddam Hussein was saying he’d go and kill them. We worked with the state department, other US agencies and it was a very difficult mission. So I want to commend you and the state department and all of the US personnel who executed an evacuation of over 120,000 people under immense danger. That was a remarkable feat that all of you did. And I also want to honor the 13 Marines that gave their lives and service to our country.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:18:25)
I’d like to ask you about is the document that started all of this, the February 29th document, 2020. That document was negotiated by the Trump administration with the Taliban, correct?
Secretary Blinken: (01:18:39)
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:18:40)
The Trump [inaudible 01:18:43] that document, correct?
Secretary Blinken: (01:18:45)
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:18:46)
And under that document, it had a very specific date for withdrawal of all US forces. Isn’t that right?
Secretary Blinken: (01:18:52)
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:18:53)
I’m going to read you what that document says because I think my Republican colleagues need to hear this and the American people. On the very first page of the February 29th, 2020 agreement that the Trump administration signed with the Taliban, it states, “The United States is committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces of United States, its allies and coalition partners, including all nondiplomatic civilian personnel, private security contractors, trainers, advisers and supporting servers as personnel within 14 months following announcement of this agreement.” That’s a very specific timeline, isn’t it?
Secretary Blinken: (01:19:33)
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:19:34)
In fact, it gets even more specific. It says that, “In the first 135 days, the United States, its allies and the coalition will withdraw all their forces from five military bases.”
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:19:47)
Did Donald Trump do that?
Secretary Blinken: (01:19:49)
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:19:50)
Yeah. In fact, when you read this document, let’s just be clear. This is a surrender document. Donald Trump’s surrender to a Taliban and he said, ” We are leaving Afghanistan. We’re not coming back and we’re not going to fight you anymore.” Now our Republican colleagues want to say that somehow it’s conditioned space. And did you notice that earlier, they didn’t want you to talk about the conditions because the main condition is that the Taliban was going to stop attacking US forces. Isn’t that correct?
Secretary Blinken: (01:20:18)
That is correct.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:20:20)
Do you know how many us forces died in a first year of the Trump presidency in 2017, Secretary Blinken? Approximately 14.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:20:28)
Do you know how many died in 2018, the second year of the Trump presidency, how many US forces died in Afghanistan? Approximately 14.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:20:36)
In 2019, the third year of the Trump presidency, do you know how many US forces died in Afghanistan? Approximately 21.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:20:43)
And then Republican colleagues say, “Hey, for a whole year and a half, US forces didn’t die.” That’s because of Taliban stop attacking US forces because of this agreement. Isn’t that right?
Secretary Blinken: (01:20:54)
That is correct.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:20:55)
And if the Biden administration has somehow said, “Hey, just kidding. We’re not leaving Afghanistan. We’re going to renege on this agreement.” The Taliban would have started attacking US forces again. Isn’t that correct?
Secretary Blinken: (01:21:06)
That is correct.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:21:08)
And in fact, Donald Trump withdrew over 15,000 US troops at a height in Afghanistan during his presidency down to 2,500, by the time President Biden inherited office. Isn’t that right?
Secretary Blinken: (01:21:20)
Yeah, that’s about right. I think he had about 13,500 when the administration started down to 2,500 when they administration ended.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:21:28)
So Donald Trump executed not only this surrender agreement, but also 70 to 80% of the surrender, of their withdrawal. And he left you all with nearly 2,500 US troops and the Taliban was still meeting their condition of not attacking US forces. Isn’t that right?
Secretary Blinken: (01:21:44)
That is correct.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:21:46)
They literally put in a box that you had to withdraw all US forces or else they would essentially start attacking our forces again, isn’t that right?
Secretary Blinken: (01:21:55)
Attacking our forces and engaging in an offensive against Afghanistan cities, which they’d refrained from.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:22:01)
And the reason we know intelligence wasn’t manipulated, it’s because the Trump administration, in fact, would not have agreed to a specific date, certain to withdraw all your US forces, if they knew the Afghan government would collapsed and 11 days after that, isn’t that right?
Secretary Blinken: (01:22:17)
It stands to reason.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:22:19)
In fact, it was a bi-partisan… You can call it not understanding what’s happening in Afghanistan, but this was happening over 20 years. Isn’t that right? That we were getting rosy assessments on a bipartisan basis that turned out not to be all that accurate.
Secretary Blinken: (01:22:35)
I believe that’s correct. And certainly I saw that from my previous service in government.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:22:40)
Great. So let’s just be clear here. It was Donald Trump who signed and negotiated the surrender agreement, that by the way, released 5,000 Taliban prisoners, isn’t that right?
Secretary Blinken: (01:22:51)
It did release 5,000 prisoners, yes.
Rep. Ted Lieu: (01:22:53)
But Donald Trump, the administration signed this agreement, negotiated it, executed it. And then President Biden completed the withdrawal. That is what happened.
Rep. Meeks: (01:23:04)
Gentleman’s time is expired. The gentleman’s time has expired. I now recognize Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee for five minutes.
Rep. Tim Burchett: (01:23:16)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. This is a picture of Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss in my local paper, the Knoxville Focus. I want to read you something that his mama said this weekend at the funeral. “He was a God loving man. He died helping people. He died doing what he loved to do.”
Rep. Tim Burchett: (01:23:36)
My constituent, Staff Sergeant Ryan Knauss, he was one of the 13 souls lost while allowing over a hundred thousand people to escape the Taliban. Sadly, the death of Sergeant Knauss and his fellow heroes, I feel was entirely preventable. If your department and this administration had a plan and had not been caught flat-footed in Afghanistan, there would have been no need to surge 6,000 additional soldiers into the country to secure that airport. You have repeatedly stated that every contingency was planned for, but clearly the rapid collapse of the Afghan government was something that you had not planned for. Their blood is on your hands and this administration, sir. I call on you to resign. And I yield the remainder of my time to Mark Green.
Rep. Meeks: (01:24:29)
Secretary Blinken: (01:24:29)
Congressman. [crosstalk 01:24:31].
Rep. Mark Green: (01:24:31)
Mr. Chairman, he yielded to me. Can I go ahead?
Rep. Tim Burchett: (01:24:36)
Rep. Mark Green: (01:24:37)
Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Rep. Meeks: (01:24:38)
The gentleman did yield his time back. I now recognize Representative Susan Wild of Pennsylvania.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:24:44)
He yelled at his time to me, Mr. Chairman. He yielded his time to me.
Rep. Meeks: (01:24:48)
Oh, he yield his time. Yes, you may proceed.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:24:49)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary. Yes or no, and I do mean yes or no, is the Taliban a terrorist organization?
Secretary Blinken: (01:24:56)
The Taliban has been designated as a terrorist organization. That’s correct.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:25:01)
And are you aware that news reports last week show that the Taliban has already set up a school to teach suicide bombers? Are you aware of that reporting?
Secretary Blinken: (01:25:15)
I’ve not seen that report.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:25:16)
I’ll make sure [crosstalk 01:25:17]
Secretary Blinken: (01:25:18)
If you’d like to share it, please do.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:25:19)
I’ll absolutely do that. Thank you very much. You guys keep talking about, insinuating that you’re going to make an agreement with the Taliban. If they’re a terrorist organization, if they have people in their leadership that are on the FBI’s terrorist watch list, if they have leadership that is known to be terrorists and you here have said they are a terrorist organization, what makes it right to even negotiate with these people?
Secretary Blinken: (01:25:52)
Anything we do, Congressmen, will be for purposes of advancing the interest in national security of the United States and those interests, among other things involve ensuring that people can continue to travel freely out of Afghanistan, including any remaining American citizens who want to leave-
Rep. Mark Green: (01:26:06)
On that note. If I could, on that note-
Secretary Blinken: (01:26:08)
Rep. Mark Green: (01:26:09)
Very much related to that point, if I could-
Secretary Blinken: (01:26:11)
The government will do so in a way that’s fully consistent with our laws.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:26:14)
Mr. Secretary, I’m reclaiming my time. On that note, you have said, and we have said, and your department has said, and the DOD has said to people who are sitting over there, now that we’re all gone, they should destroy their documents because the Taliban are searching them and killing them with those documents. And you say you’ve got a plan to get those people out of there, but they can’t get on an airplane without documents. You have nobody over there to print them documents. How are they going to get out of there? What is your plan if they have no documents? Your people told them to destroy the documents. DOD said, “Destroy the documents.” We’ve told them, because we’re talking to hundreds of them on the phone, US citizens, SIVs. What’s the plan?
Secretary Blinken: (01:26:59)
We did not tell people to destroy documents, although I understand that some people did for understandable reasons, in many cases.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:27:06)
Yeah. We’ve got the pictures of the dead bodies. I can show you the videos that friends of mine, former interpreters that I know, are videoing and sending to me. I can send those to you. They’re destroying those documents because they don’t want to wind up on a dirt road bleeding to death. So what’s the plan to get those individuals who have no documents now out of that country?
Secretary Blinken: (01:27:29)
The plan is this. First, the Taliban-led government has made commitments to recognize documents, to exit the country, to include US passports, to include green cards, to include visas. For those who have those documents, we’re working with other partners including [crosstalk 01:27:46]
Rep. Mark Green: (01:27:45)
I mean, for the people who don’t have documents, Mr. Secretary, that we know… You just said it was understandable that they would destroy those documents. So what are we doing for the people who don’t have documents?
Secretary Blinken: (01:27:57)
And we are putting in place exactly that. A mechanism to make sure that we can get people the documents they need in order to leave the country. And I’m happy to take that up in a different setting to go into more detail. But the bottom line is [crosstalk 01:28:12]
Rep. Mark Green: (01:28:11)
You’re insinuating that might be classified. Okay, fine. We can do that. Considering that the agreement between the Taliban and Afghan governments that the President keeps talking about, everybody keeps talking about this agreement between the Taliban and the Afghan governments, that they’re just following. ” We’re following the agreement.” It looks like my time’s about to expire. I’ll see you in a few minutes when it’s my turn. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Secretary Blinken: (01:28:38)
Rep. Meeks: (01:28:40)
I now recognize Representative Susan Wild of Pennsylvania for five minutes.
Rep. Susan Wild: (01:28:44)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Secretary Blinken, we just received word in my office this past weekend that one of my constituents here in Pennsylvania 7, an American citizen has been successfully evacuated from Afghanistan and is now safely in Qatar. She is a wife and mother and I want to thank you and the State Department officials who worked so hard with my team to ensure the successful outcome and I hope for-
Secretary Blinken: (01:29:11)
Glad to hear that.
Rep. Susan Wild: (01:29:12)
I hope for many more. Mr. Secretary, like all of my colleagues here, I’ve been working with my team to assist vulnerable Afghan allies who worked shoulder to shoulder with service members from our communities. And I have to say that over the course of the evacuation, it was beyond heartbreaking to see that in the vast majority of cases, the Afghan allies we were trying to assist were simply not getting out or receiving any useful information, even with members of Congress getting involved.
Rep. Susan Wild: (01:29:41)
Although I will also say parenthetically, there may have been situations where members of Congress were not particularly helpful or were getting in the way and I apologize for that on behalf of this body, but at the same time, I want to recognize the extraordinary efforts behind what was the largest airlift in American history. It’s a testament to our service members, first and foremost, as well as the administration.
Rep. Susan Wild: (01:30:04)
What I want to ask you is what concrete steps is the State Department taking now to accelerate processing time for SIV, P2 and other applications for vulnerable Afghan allies? And what steps is the department taking to improve communication with offices here in Congress when it comes to time sensitive cases involving our Afghan allies?
Secretary Blinken: (01:30:26)
Thank you. First, let me just, again, thank you personally, but also thanks to so many members of this committee who have been working with us on SIVs and other Afghans at risk, getting information to us, working to follow up. We’re deeply, deeply grateful for that. And we want to make sure that we continue to do that and work on these cases.
Secretary Blinken: (01:30:47)
As you know, we discussed before, in the first instance, of course, we inherited a program that was in a deep, deep freeze. We got it back up into second and third gear and well before the collapse of the government. We went from issuing about a hundred visas a week to a thousand. And we were working with Congress to try to streamline and make more efficient this program. As you know, there are 14 steps involving half a dozen agencies that are required by law or by the different implementing rules that came into place as a result of that law.
Secretary Blinken: (01:31:26)
However, having said all of that, going forward, a few things. We have about 20,000 people in the SIV pipeline. That’s basically been the number for a long time. It’s accumulated over many years and it stayed more or less in that area because more people even today continue to start the application process. But as you know, the most critical moment in the application process is what’s called Chief of Mission approval. That’s the point at which people are found to be, in fact, eligible for the program. They meet the requirements and of all the people applying to the program, 40% don’t make it through Chief of Mission approval because it turns out that they don’t qualify. Now some of that is because they don’t have the necessary documentation required again by law to demonstrate their eligibility.
Secretary Blinken: (01:32:22)
Much of that is because of the many people applying for SIVs, the majority, well over the majority, worked for DOD contractors primarily. These are not the interpreters and translators. These are folks who worked for contractors or subcontractors, getting a letter demonstrating that they provided a faithful service can be very, very difficult. Especially if the contractor, the sub went out of business. We need to find a way to deal with that and also to work with all the other agencies to make sure they have the appropriate records.
Secretary Blinken: (01:32:54)
But let me just quickly fast forward to your question. We have about 4, 000 or so people who are at the Chief of Mission approval stage right now and we’re going to work to get them through that in the coming weeks. And then we have another, roughly, 4,000, who already have Chief of Mission approval. There’s still a number of other steps mandated by law that go into this, including interviews, fingerprinting, et cetera. We’re looking to see with you, how we can expedite all of that, while keeping security foremost in our minds, move people to third countries to finish whatever processing is necessary and then bring them to the United States.
Secretary Blinken: (01:33:34)
But we need to come to you, I think, to work on ways that we can make this program even more efficient and more streamlined beyond even what we were able to do over the last nine months.
Rep. Susan Wild: (01:33:45)
Thank you so much. Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
Rep. Meeks: (01:33:50)
The gentlelady’s time has expired. I now recognize Representative Mark Green of Tennessee, who’s a ranking member of the subcommittee in the Western hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration and International Economic Policy for five minutes.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:34:02)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And Secretary Blinken, your credibility, I think, would be a lot greater if you’d at least own something. Something X, Y, Z, something. Yet you follow the lead of your president and you blame everybody else. It’s not your problem. It’s Trump. It’s somebody else. You’d have credibility.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:34:24)
Let me give you an example. HKIA. You had no plan or a horrible plan to get people into the gate, just get them through the gate. My colleagues and I had hundreds of people on the phone that were US citizens, sitting at the gates and they couldn’t get in. That’s a failure on you, either to plan or you had a horrible plan, but those US citizens couldn’t get through the gate. Just own it. Get some credibility. Own it. You keep telling us that the DOD and President Biden had no idea that the Taliban would be so successful. The collapse of the Afghan forces.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:35:06)
And then you want us to believe you when you say the Russians and the Chinese aren’t empowered by this. That kills your credibility by saying, “Hey, we failed to predict that this would happen. Nobody had an idea that they’d collapse like that.” And then you say, “Oh, but I assure you, the Russians and the Chinese aren’t empowered by this.” And we’re supposed to believe you. I’ve already talked about the documents.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:35:31)
The United Kingdom. I’m sure you’re familiar. It went viral. A member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, on the floor of the House of Commons. Tom Tugendhat basically called the withdrawal, President Biden’s withdrawal, shameful and said that the UK, our greatest ally, should reconsider how dependent they are on the United States. Yet you sit here today and tell us that NATO.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:36:02)
… yet you sit here today and tell us that NATO was completely fine with everything. Y’all coordinated everything with NATO, and it was all good. That’s what you’ve communicated to me at least, or here today. And yet a member of parliament is saying it was a shameful withdrawal on the floor of the House of Commons. Our greatest ally. The headline of The Economist a few weeks ago, I don’t know if you saw it, but it said “Biden’s Debacle.” I’m not so sure NATO will agree with you that they were all in on this together.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:36:38)
Now I will say this. It is against the law, the United States law, to give material aid to a terrorist organization. You said earlier when I asked you before if the Taliban was a terrorist organization, you said yes. $85 billion. I would consider that material aid to a terrorist organization, Mr. Secretary. And yet, here we are. Oh, well, but wait, you admit it. We had no idea that the Taliban would be so successful. We had no idea that the Afghans would fail like this. Well, that’s your fault. That’s your administration’s fault. I guess maybe it’s the intel community’s fault. That’s what you’re really saying. Hey, CIA, and all you other guys, you failed to give us good intel here. We had no idea this was going to happen. And we’re supposed to trust you when you tell us other things about the Chinese and the Russians.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:37:36)
Considering rumors of ISIS support for the… I’m sorry. ISI’s support for the Taliban, have you guys reached out to India as a possible staging area for the over-the-horizon forces? And I’m talking Northwest India as a potential, because we all know cutter and Doha, the other places, are just a little bit too far, Kuwait, all of that. What about Northwest India? And have you reached out? Have you thought about that?
Secretary Blinken: (01:38:07)
Let me just say generally, Congressman, were deeply engaged with India across the board. With regard, though, to any specifics about over the rise and capabilities and the plans that we put in place and will continue to put in place, I’d rather take that up in a different setting, and I think the Chairman referenced that at the start of the hearing.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:38:25)
I think that’s very fair, and I appreciate you saying that, and I’m glad to at least know that there’s an opportunity to talk about that, because I think that from my standpoint is an opportunity we should seize. I’d like to go back to the documents and give you a few seconds to talk about that, because I do want to hear your plan for those individuals, if you can today, and if you can’t then fine, we’ll talk about it behind closed doors, but I am very concerned about people who destroyed documents. Can you elaborate at all on that?
Secretary Blinken: (01:38:53)
And I really appreciate that. And I just want to assure you, but I’d rather have this conversation in a different setting, that we are putting in place plans to make sure that people can get documents that they need and documents that the Taliban says it will recognize to allow them to leave the country. I’d be happy to pursue that conversation.
Rep. Mark Green: (01:39:17)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I yield.
Rep. Meeks: (01:39:19)
The gentleman’s time has expired, and I recognize Representative Dean Phillips of Minnesota for five minutes.
Dean Phillips: (01:39:25)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary, I’m one of 20,000 gold star children from the Vietnam War and now joined by 5000 more gold star children from both Iraq and Afghanistan, and I just want to acknowledge all of my brothers and sisters who’ve had to watch the events of the last month that’s so sadly looks so strangely familiar as it relates to the fall of Saigon, of course, 50 years ago. And I also want to honor the service of many of my colleagues, many of whom serve on this very committee, including my friend Brian Mast who just about gave his entire life to our country, and I honor all of you. I want to start with that. And let me assure you, it’s been difficult, heartbreaking, and disappointing to watch the last number of years and of course the last month. But I also have to say I’m terribly disappointed in my colleagues, some of them, on this committee today.
Dean Phillips: (01:40:20)
I think it’s embarrassing. I think it’s counterproductive. And I think it’s shameful, frankly, because I don’t hold Republicans accountable for my father’s death even though he died in a Republican administration. I hold John Kennedy, I hold Lyndon Johnson, I hold Richard Nixon, I hold Congress accountable as well, and many other individuals. And I just ask that the spirit of this committee return to our core job. With that, Mr. Secretary, you’ve spoken about lessons learned for both our country, not terribly specifically. I’d welcome you to cover that again. What specifically did we learn? What should we have learned collectively? And also personally, what have you learned? What might you do differently as you look back over the last number of months in preparation for this exit?
Secretary Blinken: (01:41:04)
Thank you very much. Thank you for what you said, and thank you for the question. I think we all have to take stock of the last nine months and the last 20 years, because to reach the point that we’ve reached today, it’s an accumulation of decisions, strategies, plans over 20 years, as well as over the last nine months, and all of that, has to factor in. Look, my biggest takeaway is that when it comes to using force, we are very good and very effective at doing that to deal with a terrorist threat to this country, as we’ve demonstrated time and again, and as we demonstrated after 9/11, and we need to make sure that we always have the capacity to be the most effective country on earth when it comes to that.
Secretary Blinken: (01:42:06)
At the same time, I think one of the hard lessons, at least to me, of Afghanistan is even the best intentions, and these were really good intentions to try to remake a society, remake a country in an image that looks a little bit more like what we believe is right, may be beyond our capacity. And inserting ourselves into the middle of a civil war and staying there with no prospect of actually creating a decisive effect also is something we need to think really, really hard about.
Secretary Blinken: (01:42:47)
I think we got to a point in Afghanistan, not when it comes to counter-terrorism, where thanks to the extraordinary courage, bravery, and success of generations now of men and women in uniform, as well as the diplomats and intelligence officials who worked with them… They did a remarkable job in dealing with the people who attacked us in 9/11,. But when it came to this much more expansive effort to defeat the Taliban and to remake Afghanistan, that was a different story. And I think we got to the point where, arguably, we knew how not to lose, but we were not capable in that frame of winning. And the result was it went on for-
Dean Phillips: (01:43:35)
I’ve got about a minute left. I just want to reclaim a little bit of time.
Secretary Blinken: (01:43:38)
[inaudible 01:43:38]. Thank you.
Dean Phillips: (01:43:39)
I also want to salute our staffers, staffers and Democratic officers, Republican officers, many of them very early career staffers who have done yeoman’s work to help people evacuate from Afghanistan. I want to celebrate them. But what I’ve heard from many, Mr. Secretary, is that the coordination of this effort was very challenging. Very quickly, what grade would you give the United States of America for its whole of government planning and execution of the withdrawal plan? What grade?
Secretary Blinken: (01:44:07)
I can’t give it a grade, but here’s what I can say. I think that you’re right. We, in this extraordinary situation, had to do a tremendous amount of work to get to a better place, especially when it comes to coordination. And there’s a lot of work yet to be done learning from what we did and what we didn’t do going forward to put us in a better place. And so I think from my perspective, at least, it definitely improved, but it did not start from a great place, largely because of the exigency of the situation that we were in. But here’s the question that I think I hope we can on together: knowing that, how do we put ourselves in a better position going forward, so that we can get that kind of coordination and cooperation stood up much more quickly?
Dean Phillips: (01:45:05)
I appreciate your candor. And I yield back. Thank you, sir.
Rep. Meeks: (01:45:08)
Gentleman’s time is expired. I now recognize Representative Andy Barr of Kentucky for five minutes.
Andy Barr: (01:45:15)
Mr. Secretary, let me return to the dissent cable. You said you read the July 13th dissent cable prepared by the career diplomats at the Kabul embassy. And you said you were very proud of that. Is that, again, correct?
Secretary Blinken: (01:45:27)
That is correct, yes.
Andy Barr: (01:45:29)
And that warning came over one month before the fall of Kabul, right?
Secretary Blinken: (01:45:34)
The cable was, I believe…
Andy Barr: (01:45:36)
Secretary Blinken: (01:45:37)
… on July 13th. Yes.
Andy Barr: (01:45:39)
July 13th. So over a month. And the cable warned that the Afghan government was at risk of collapse, and your response was, “The thoughts of the drafters reflected much of the thinking of the department,” and you still maintain that to be the case.
Secretary Blinken: (01:45:54)
The cable did not predict that the government or security forces would collapse before we departed.
Andy Barr: (01:46:00)
But the cable didn’t say the Afghan government was at risk of collapse, and you said that the thoughts of the drafters reflected much of that thinking of the department. By the way, at the exact same time, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the department was briefing this committee that the Taliban was moving quickly toward a takeover of the country. You presumably had access to that same intelligence from INR was corroborated the dissent cable and was alarming to many members of this committee. Do you dispute that?
Secretary Blinken: (01:46:32)
As we’ve had an opportunity to discuss throughout these many months, there were ongoing intelligence assessments about the durability resilience of the Afghan government.
Andy Barr: (01:46:42)
Let’s just be honest, Mr. Secretary, these were alarming cables. They were warnings. There were warnings to you. You said they reflected the majority of position of the department. Did you share this intelligence with the president of the United States?
Secretary Blinken: (01:46:58)
Two things on the cable, Congressman. First, the main focus of the cable was on taking steps to expedite the efforts we were making to bring out the SIV applicants and others from Afghanistan. [crosstalk 01:47:14]…
Andy Barr: (01:47:14)
And why was that? [crosstalk 01:47:16] the collapse was imminent. Did you share that intelligence with the president?
Secretary Blinken: (01:47:22)
It did not say that the collapse was imminent. It expressed-
Andy Barr: (01:47:24)
When did you accelerate the process?
Secretary Blinken: (01:47:27)
Because it expressed real concerns about [inaudible 01:47:30].
Andy Barr: (01:47:30)
[inaudible 01:47:30] because we got it too. We saw it, too. We knew this was totally avoidable. Did you share that intelligence with the president? Did you advise him for a shift in strategy as a result of this intelligence?
Secretary Blinken: (01:47:43)
Again, this is not… First of all, it’s not intelligence, it’s information analysis assessment. That’s very important coming from our embassy.
Andy Barr: (01:47:52)
INR is intelligence, and the cable was analysis. Did you share it with the president?
Secretary Blinken: (01:47:58)
The dissent channel, which is an important, very important tradition in the state department, under its regulations is shared only with the senior leadership [inaudible 01:48:08]…
Andy Barr: (01:48:08)
[inaudible 01:48:08] question. You’re not answering the question, but I want to know if you [inaudible 01:48:12] a shift in policy and if not, why not? I want to know if the president contemplated shifting any part of this strategy when it was very apparent that this strategy of unconditional retreat was failing, and it was failing over a month before the fall of Kabul.
Andy Barr: (01:48:29)
Let me move on. Bagram, real quick. In April, I warned you not to abandon Bagram. Little did I know the Biden administration would abandon it even before evacuating all Americans, our allies and advanced military equipment, leaving the world’s most dangerous airport, H Kaia, as the exclusive point of extraction. Who made the decision to abandon Bagram at that time?
Secretary Blinken: (01:48:52)
Congressman, as you know, the military was engaged in a draw down from Afghanistan, and part of that draw down was moving out of different positions to include Bagram air base, which was given to the Afghan security and defense forces.
Andy Barr: (01:49:05)
You’re telling me that the military, the military, advised evacuating Bagram before you extracted all Americans and the equipment, or was that a State Department decision?
Secretary Blinken: (01:49:19)
We certainly did not make a decision about Bagram. The military is charged with doing the planning and the work in any draw down, and they make decisions based on force protection and the security of our men and women in uniform.
Andy Barr: (01:49:36)
Secretary Blinken: (01:49:39)
Andy Barr: (01:49:39)
Okay. You say that there’s nothing the Chinese would’ve wanted us more than to stay in Afghanistan. Is it your testimony that… Is it your testimony that the Chinese wanted the United States to remain in the only air base in the country with a physical border with China? You think that that’s the Chinese position that they wanted us to keep Bagram?
Secretary Blinken: (01:50:00)
I think the Chinese would have liked to have seen us remain in a [re-up 01:50:03] war [inaudible 01:50:04]…
Andy Barr: (01:50:04)
Oh, so, [inaudible 01:50:05]…
Secretary Blinken: (01:50:05)
… under attack in which we would have put more and more forces [inaudible 01:50:08]…
Andy Barr: (01:50:08)
Secretary Blinken: (01:50:11)
…. Afghanistan [inaudible 01:50:11]…
Andy Barr: (01:50:11)
You think the Chinese are celebrating us? You think the Chinese are celebrating us abandoning an airbase, the largest air base on their border? Come on.
Rep. Meeks: (01:50:19)
The gentleman’s time has expired.
Andy Barr: (01:50:22)
Just be honest, just be honest. I yield back.
Rep. Meeks: (01:50:24)
The gentleman’s time has expired. I now recognized representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who’s the vice chair of the subcommittee on Africa, global health, and global human rights, for five minutes.
Ilhan Omar: (01:50:35)
Thank you, Chair [inaudible 01:50:36]. Mr. Secretary, I know it is harder to end a war than start one in this town, so I thank you and the president for ending our longest war. Over the weekend, both New York times and Washington Post reported that August 29th drone strike that supposedly prevented a car bomb attack at the airport in Kabul instead killed Zemari Ahmadi, an aid worker and his family. The strike happened when there was a lot of eyes on the Kabul, but it’s not unusual for US drone strikes to kill civilians. It is not unusual for the US government to claim it killed terrorists instead. And this is coming on the heels of reporting that DOD failed to spend a single dollar of the redress payments that Congress has provided for civilian casualties. As Congress considers the continuing utility of the 2001 AUMF, how can you possibly ensure us that our drone strikes and over-the-horizon capabilities will actually reach their targets?
Secretary Blinken: (01:52:03)
First when it comes to moving forward, I hope that we can, again, take this up in a different setting and different session. I know with regard to the drone strike that you’re referring to, that is being looked at very, very, very carefully by others in the administration so that we understand exactly what happened or what didn’t happen. And no country on earth, no government, takes more effort, takes more precautions, to try to ensure that anyone other than the intended terrorist target is struck using a drone or by any other means. But certainly we know that in the past civilians have been hurt and have been killed in these strikes, and we have to make sure that we have in place every possible measure to allow us to continue to use the tool to defend and protect ourselves while avoiding anyone on the civilian side from being hit. And we also need to look, as you rightly said, at the authorizations, going back to 2001 and 2002. We strongly support that those need to be updated to reflect present realities, not the reality it was in 2001 or 2002.
Ilhan Omar: (01:53:30)
And Mr. Secretary, from the State Department’s point of view, what is the impact of the uncountable and accountable civilian harm on our counter-terrorism goals?
Secretary Blinken: (01:53:45)
It certainly runs counter to those goals. Whenever there are civilian casualties, whenever there are unintended injuries or deaths, it does not advance what we’re trying to do. And so that’s besides the moral obligation we have to do everything we possibly can to make sure that civilians are not harmed or killed. It’s also true that in terms of the mission itself, we want to make sure that that doesn’t happen because if people lose faith and confidence in it, if they… and particularly in the countries in question, if people see it as a tool to do harm to innocent civilians as opposed to terrorists who are a threat to everyone, that will undermine support for what we’re doing.
Ilhan Omar: (01:54:39)
And in your role and previous roles in other administrations, how much of an analysis is being done to look at whether our counter-terrorism efforts are actually being counter to the work that we are trying to do in ending terrorism around the world?
Secretary Blinken: (01:55:01)
I would call it very, very significant. Certainly in the Obama administration, we spent a tremendous amount of time looking at reviewing and modifying all of these procedures, all of the safeguards, all of the criteria that went along with using these tools. And we’d been in the midst of conducting just such a review in this administration to make sure to the best of our ability that when we take a strike, we get the intended person and no one else.
Rep. Meeks: (01:55:41)
The gentlelady’s time has expired. And I recognize Representative Greg Steube of Florida, who’s the ranking member of the subcommittee in the Middle East, North Africa, and global counter-terrorism, for five minutes.
Greg Steube: (01:55:50)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Blinken, even in your opening statement you can’t be honest with the American people. You stated, and I quote, that “By January, 2021, the Taliban was in its strongest military position since 9/11.” I’m pretty sure their strongest military position has been during your entire administration, not prior to it. In fact, their strongest military position since the towers were hit in 2001 was this past September 11th, the 20th anniversary, all of which happened on your watch, not your predecessors’. In fact, on April 27th of this year, days before the original deadline negotiated by the Trump administration that you and the Biden administration violated, the Taliban controlled 77 districts in Afghanistan. The Afghan government controlled 129, and there were 194 contested districts. By August 15th, while you and Biden were on vacation, the Taliban had taken and controlled 304 districts, and the government only control 37. From May to August of year, while you, the Department of Defense, and the president did absolutely nothing, the Taliban gained 227 districts in Afghanistan in just four months.
Greg Steube: (01:56:57)
You can’t claim ignorance to what was going on there, and you can’t blame the Trump administration for your failure. I served in Iraq and I’m well aware of our capabilities, your administration, the white house was seeing in real time what was happening in Afghanistan, and you did absolutely nothing to stop it. In fact, you did what you could to conceal the facts. Biden himself tried to get President Ghani to lie about what was happening on the ground. Biden told Ghani that, “The perception around the world and in parts of Afghanistan, I believe, is that things aren’t going well in terms of the fight against the Taliban. And there’s a need, whether it’s true or not, there’s a need to project a different picture.” That was on July 23rd, before all of you went on vacation. So you knew exactly what was going on there and did nothing to start moving our people out or our SIVs out until it was too late. And the Taliban controlled the entire nation.
Greg Steube: (01:57:45)
You earlier stated under questioning today, and I quote, “We inherited a deadline, not a plan,” yet you didn’t even follow the deadline that you cascade is something you couldn’t do anything about. This whole blaming the Trump administration for everything that’s happened in Afghanistan is a disgrace. You are the Secretary of State and Biden has been the commander in chief since January, not Trump. You and the administration saw what was happening in Afghanistan, and you had the ability to deal with it, not Trump. You were responsible for the assets on the ground, and you were responsible for getting our people out. So I know how you, Biden, and other Democrats want nothing more than to blame Trump for all of the problems that you have created, but the responsibility for all of this lies squarely on your shoulders and in the lap of President Biden.
Greg Steube: (01:58:31)
Then after Kabul fell, your leadership completely and utterly failed, not only our citizens on the ground but our allies that we’ve worked with for 20 years. First your direction was shelter in place. Then it was make your way to the airport, but we can’t guarantee your safety on the way there. Then it was shelter in place. Then it was come to the gates. Then it was leave the gates. While all of this was happening, you’re handing our lists of citizens and Afghan SIVs to the Taliban, a globally recognized terrorist organization, because you were unwilling to go in and get the citizens and SIVs stuck behind enemy lines out.
Greg Steube: (01:59:08)
And as we sit here today, we still have citizens and SIVs stuck in Taliban hands. Despite Biden, promising to stay and get them all out, and thanks to you, our enemy knows exactly who they are and how to find them. And you described this, and I quote, as an “extraordinary effort.” I would certainly not describe the deaths of 13 US service members, the deaths of hundreds of Afghans, and the fact that we still have citizens and SIVs stuck behind enemy lines while the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS-K go door-to-door hunting them down as an extraordinary effort.
Greg Steube: (01:59:45)
And if all that wasn’t bad enough, you spit in the eye of every single service member who served on the War on Terror for the last 20 years by even considering recognizing the Taliban, who we have fought against for 20 years, as a legitimate government. And not only recognize them but do absolutely nothing while the Taliban takes control of $90 billion worth of military aircraft, Humvees, weapons, night vision goggles, uniforms, ammunitions, and Black Hawks. And after we’ve rolled over and handed all that to them, you announced today with great fanfare and great pride that you were providing $64 million in humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan. You can’t even get our people out of the country, but we in the American people are to believe that $64 million of our tax dollars that’s to be sent to Afghanistan won’t fall in the hands of the Taliban or other terrorist organizations who you were relying upon to get our people out of the airport.
Greg Steube: (02:00:42)
Your legacy will be the Taliban flying our Black Hawk over Kabul while someone, maybe a US citizen, hangs from a rope by his neck. And while this is happening, you are saying that you are working diplomatically with the Taliban [crosstalk 02:00:55]…
Rep. Meeks: (02:00:55)
The gentleman’s time has expired. I now recognize Representative Colin Allred of Texas for five minutes.
Colin Allred: (02:01:03)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I respect my colleague who was just speaking’s service. I think much of what he said was not accurate. Mr. Secretary, would you like to respond to [inaudible 02:01:13] you’d like to have to respond to [inaudible 02:01:16]?
Secretary Blinken: (02:01:15)
It would take too long, and I very much respect his service as well. I respect the service of everyone on this committee, Republican, Democrat, whether they agree with what we did or vehemently disagree with it. Regardless of any of that, I deeply respect the service.
Secretary Blinken: (02:01:29)
I deeply respect the loss of those extraordinary men and women, the 13 Marines and others who lost their lives so that others could live theirs in the terrorist attack by ISIS-K, and I also deeply respect the loss of the 2641 service members who gave their lives in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. And I would simply say, and I apologize for taking your time, but I would simply say that I believe the most important legacy we can leave is to have ended America’s longest war, to make sure that a third generation of Americans doesn’t have to go fight and die in Afghanistan, as well as having brought 125,000 people to safety under the most extraordinary circumstances, made good by our commitments to work to get every American out and to continue to do that with the few that remain in Afghanistan, as well as to deal with the ongoing challenges that it poses. So I believe that will be the legacy that we’re talking about. I apologize, Congressman for taking your time. Thank you.
Colin Allred: (02:02:27)
No, thank you, Mr. Secretary. It’s extremely difficult to end a 20-year conflict, and I think we’re seeing that. And of course tempers are running high, and I know it’s been a long day, but I want to thank you and the State Department personnel for helping my office evacuate the Afzali family from Kabul to be reunited with his brother who actually lives here in my district. Mr. Afzali worked with our embassy, and not only did he evacuate his wife and two kids, he got four unaccompanied children whose mother was already in New York out of Kabul as well. And so I want to thank your team for that success story.
Colin Allred: (02:03:04)
And as a member of the veteran affairs committee, as well as this committee, I want to speak to the many veterans of the Afghan War and their families who live in my district, and just quote President George W. Bush, who is actually my constituent, this weekend said that, “The cause that you pursued at the call of duty is the noblest America has to offer. You’ve shielded your fellow citizens from danger. You’ve defended the beliefs of your country and advanced the rights of the downtrodden. You’ve been the face of hope and mercy in dark places. You’ve been a force for good in the world.” And I want to thank all those who’ve served as well.
Colin Allred: (02:03:38)
Now, Mr. Secretary, in the time I have remaining, I want to say two and a half years ago, your predecessor, Secretary Pompeo, appeared before this committee. And I know it’s not very satisfying to look to the past and sometimes maybe even think that you’re pointing fingers. But at that time I questioned him about the conditions of our withdrawal from Afghanistan that he was negotiating in real time with the Taliban. I asked secretary Pompeo why he had abandoned previous US policy regarding negotiations with the Taliban, such as insisting that they agree to respect the Afghan constitution, including its protections for women and minorities. And, of course, as my other colleagues have said, most egregiously excluding the Afghan government from those negotiations almost entirely undermining that very government in its own country. At the time that Secretary Pompeo was fairly dismissive, I think it’s fair to say, of my concerns. But, Mr. Secretary, I want to draw your attention to the screen here, showing an excerpt of the Trump administration’s deal. It notes that the deal did not require the Taliban to disavow Al-Qaeda and did not include a commitment to not attack Afghan security forces, which has also been discussed today. And I want to ask you, Mr. Secretary, based on your experience, what aspects of the deal that you inherited would you have handled differently, based on past US policy and the best of the [inaudible 02:04:58] tools that are at our disposal?
Secretary Blinken: (02:05:01)
Well, look, hindsight is always 2020, whether it’s for us, whether it’s for the previous administration, or the ones before. But I would say that to the extent there was conditionality in that agreement imposed on the Taliban, ideally it should have gone further. Yes, very good to make sure that our forces were not being attacked during the pendency of the agreement until we withdrew all of our forces, but there was very little in that agreement that really compelled the Taliban to negotiate and get to an agreement with the Afghan government about the future of Afghanistan, a future in which these basic rights and principles were upheld. That wasn’t there, and I think that’s unfortunate.
Secretary Blinken: (02:05:45)
Similarly, we can talk about the forces that we withdrew in the last stuff a few months, but in reducing to the extent that we did the leverage that we had by going from roughly 13,500 forces down to 2500 forces by the end of the last administration, that made it very, very challenging to leverage the Taliban to even make good on what little there was in the agreement to begin with, nevermind doing more. So again, in fairness, all of this is 2020, and I hope we engage in that 20/20 hindsight not just for the last nine months, but for the last 20 years, because there’s a lot that we need to look at.
Rep. Meeks: (02:06:29)
The gentleman’s time has expired.
Colin Allred: (02:06:31)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.
Rep. Meeks: (02:06:32)
I now recognize Representative Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania for five minutes.
Dan Meuser: (02:06:37)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary, you are a longstanding, experienced American diplomat. Your service is to be commended to our country. Past hearings you have been fair and informative. I, however, must state that I’m very disappointed in your written testimony, your opening comments, and answers today, which really seemed to me, sir, as a series of rationalizations. You are in fact blaming everyone but yourselves and the Taliban, which is interesting for this disaster, and yet you seem to continue to be victimized by wishful thinking. Blaming the Trump administration, frankly, is equivalent to me planning a fishing trip months in advance. The day comes to leave, a hurricane comes in, you go anyway, and blame me for things going badly.
Dan Meuser: (02:07:28)
The fact is this epic… these epic mistakes and the ignoring of intel has left a country… okay, these are the facts. This is the reality of today… under a brutal terrorist regime, and the world is a more dangerous place. Massacres, murders continue. I just informed a newspaper of a horrific scene I heard of this morning, somebody being pulled out, an interpreter murdered in front of their children, the children taken. This is a result of these incredible mistakes. 13 Americans tragically, tragically killed. 124,000 Afghanistan…
Dan Meuser: (02:08:03)
Americans tragically, tragically killed. 124,000 Afghanistanians desperately fleeing for their lives, some falling off of airplanes as they leave, as they desperately try to get out. We have billions in American military equipment and pallets of cash, I understand, left behind in Taliban hands. Yet, sir, you sit and tell us that you did the right thing. That frankly scares the hell out of us as to what decisions might be made next. So I’ll start with my first question. Are there any conditions where we provide pallets of cash to the Taliban?
Secretary Blinken: (02:08:42)
None that I’m aware of.
Dan Meuser: (02:08:43)
All right, thank you. Intel said Taliban would likely overrun Afghanistan and all the cities as it did. Of course, you mentioned General Milley a number of times stating how there was no intel stating 11 days. What was the likely scenario that you all, your department, and the Biden administration believe was going to occur after our retreat?
Secretary Blinken: (02:09:13)
So congressmen, throughout the spring and into the summer, if you look back at the intelligence assessments and collective assessments that were made, and typically you would have a worst case scenario, best case scenario, and scenarios in between. It went from in the winter and spring to worst case scenario, the Taliban takes over the country in 18 months to two years after our withdrawal, to in July, the end of the year, the end of this calendar year. And even right up to the very end, as I’ve said before, to my knowledge at least, no one was predicting the collapse of the government and the security forces in 11 days. So yes, it got narrower, the worst case scenarios, but it went from 18 months to two years to the end of this year.
Dan Meuser: (02:10:09)
Okay. That’s getting it very wrong regardless of the information available. Will the Biden administration secure our southern border now that we have this serious additional crisis and terrorists on the loose worldwide?
Secretary Blinken: (02:10:26)
We’ve been working assiduously to secure that border from day one. And we’re also, as we talked about a little bit earlier with regard to Afghans coming in to the United States. As you know, there are very significant rigorous vetting procedures in place with customs and border patrol, NCTC, FBI, CIA, et cetera, that are done initially in these transit countries before anyone comes to the United States, and then continue on military bases here, which is usually the point of landing after Dulles airport for people coming from Afghanistan.
Dan Meuser: (02:11:06)
Thank you, secretary. Just lastly, do you believe, and the Biden administration believe terrorists respond to strength and the willingness to use it?
Secretary Blinken: (02:11:15)
Terrorists respond to effective counter-terrorism. Absolutely.
Dan Meuser: (02:11:20)
All right. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.
Secretary Blinken: (02:11:23)
Rep. Meeks: (02:11:25)
Gentleman yields back. I now recognize Representative Andy Levin of Michigan, who is the Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia, and Non-Proliferation for five minutes.
Representative Andy Levin: (02:11:35)
Thanks Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Mr. Secretary for helping the president end our longest ever war, which was the right thing to do, for your department’s efforts to airlift out so many tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans when the Afghan government and armed forces fell so precipitously, and for your patience and steadfastness here today. Obviously you’ve heard a lot about our concerns today regarding Afghans seeking refuge in the United States and elsewhere. And I want to start there. What commitments has the administration secured from third countries to host Afghans for a sufficient duration to allow the administration to process their SIV P1 and P2 visas or humanitarian parole requests? Where are we at with that?
Secretary Blinken: (02:12:33)
So we’ve secured a number of agreements that would allow us to, as Afghans come out of the country, and these would be SIV applicants. These would be potential refugees with several countries where they could go to those countries. We could engage in the processing, especially with regard to Westside visas, with a 14 step process. Very hard to complete that there, parts that we could not possibly complete remotely in Afghanistan. So we do need to get them to third countries where we can complete that. [crosstalk 02:13:08]
Representative Andy Levin: (02:13:12)
That’s the question. Or do we need more?
Secretary Blinken: (02:13:14)
Representative Andy Levin: (02:13:15)
Is the capacity enough or do we need more?
Secretary Blinken: (02:13:17)
I think the current capacity is enough, but that’s something we’re going to look very carefully at. And of course much depends on the ongoing ability of people to leave Afghanistan and to get to these countries.
Representative Andy Levin: (02:13:33)
Okay. All right. Well, let’s stay on the topic of Afghans who need protection right now. US officials stated our commitment to Afghans at risk, such as civil society workers, human rights defenders, women’s rights activists, journalists, and others. And that commitment didn’t end with the withdrawal of US personnel. Deciding to draw these lines is super difficult. Who else specifically is the Biden administration defining as at-risk, and how does the State Department intend to support them?
Secretary Blinken: (02:14:08)
Yeah, right. It is very challenging. In the summer, besides the SIV program, we put in place the so-called P2 category for Afghans who didn’t meet the requirements of the SIV program, but who had nonetheless worked, for example, for NGOs, for American news organizations, other institutions, but not directly for the US government so that they could qualify for the SIV. Of course, the general refugee program is available to people. So if they can get out of Afghanistan, which is what we’re working on, they can go to a third country and apply for refugee status. But we’re particularly focused on Afghans at risk, and the ones most at risk are people who, by what they’ve done or what they’ve said, or who they are could be at real threat from the new government.
Representative Andy Levin: (02:15:11)
All right. Finally, let me return to the question of the drone strike, the US drone strike in Kabul on August 29th, which reportedly killed at least 10 civilians, including seven kids, just going from media reports. What I want to ask is what role is the State Department playing in helping to investigate any civilian harm caused in this strike? Does the State Department have a role in this? Is it purely military or intelligence officials?
Secretary Blinken: (02:15:46)
Without going into too much detail here, in the first instance, the military and intelligence is focused on reviewing everything that we did. They do that as a matter of course, and of course they’re doing that in this instance. To the extent that we have any information that comes to us that’s relevant to this, of course we would feed it into that review process.
Representative Andy Levin: (02:16:06)
All right. Well, I hope we can take this up when we have a classified discussion, because it happens a lot and we have to do everything we can to stop it. With that, Mr. Chairman, thank you so much and I yield back.
Rep. Meeks: (02:16:21)
Gentleman yields back. I now recognize Representative Claudia Tenney of New York, who’s the vice ranking member for the Subcommittee on International Development, International Organizations and Global Corporate Social Impact for five minutes.
Representative Claudia Tenney: (02:16:35)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to get right to it. My son served in the Marine Corps for eight years. I spent the weekend with Marines and Gold Star families. There’s nothing worse than having someone show up at your door to tell you that your son or daughter was killed in action. I know you know that. I just want to say to some of our colleagues on this call who don’t understand the anger and the anguish that many feel, referring to this as histrionics and by this side, I feel the pain of these people. I spent the weekend with them. I’ve been with my Gold Star families for many, many years. And I know you understand that.
Representative Claudia Tenney: (02:17:17)
But my question to you is that I… And I want to reference back to something that Representative Issa had referred to. He referred to communications that our American citizens and others had received that said, “Make contingency plans to leave when it is safe to do so, that do not rely on the US government for assistance. Notify a trusted person on your travel and movement plans.” This communication was given by the State Department to US citizens, along with legal, permanent residents, and SIV applicants and holders. My question is, can you tell us that these people… And I appreciate those who’ve been able to get out successfully who have not been assisted, who are there in harm’s way, will you give us a commitment that our American citizens and our legal, permanent residents and others will be out safely?
Secretary Blinken: (02:18:19)
Absolutely. But just to clarify, and again, I invited Congressmen Issa to share that with me. Here’s my understanding. Starting in March we issued 19 separate… [crosstalk 02:18:38] Yeah, no, no. Just to be clear, and I believe this is what this refers to, but if it’s not, we’ll take that up.
Representative Claudia Tenney: (02:18:53)
The question is, can you just make the assurance that these people will be out safely? Because I now have an American citizen family of seven, a two year old is an American citizen, and they’re still stranded in Afghanistan. They were told by the State Department in a letter, “Only one parent can accompany this two-year-old home,” which means the other five are going to be left in Afghanistan. I want more assurance that all of that family will be kept in tact and be brought home and will not be separated at the Afghan border.
Secretary Blinken: (02:19:23)
First of all, Congresswoman, we are committed to bringing in any remaining… [inaudible 02:19:26] I’d be happy to address the question if I could, please. We’re committed to bringing any remaining American citizens in Afghanistan out who wish to leave. And we’re working on that every single day, under the law.
Representative Claudia Tenney: (02:19:42)
This is the question, though. We have an American citizen who has six family members who are legal, permanent residents. We were told by the State Department, only one gets to accompany the American citizen. These aren’t people that don’t want to leave Afghanistan. These are people that aren’t going to abandon their children. So I just want to be sure… [crosstalk 02:19:59]
Secretary Blinken: (02:20:01)
Let me be clear. Can I please answer the question? Because it’s an important one. And it deserves… [crosstalk 02:20:05]
Representative Claudia Tenney: (02:20:05)
I just want a yes or no answer. It’s really simple because you’re taking up my time and I have a couple issues I want to get to.
Secretary Blinken: (02:20:11)
I’m really happy to address, because you raised a very important question. Just to be very clear, any American citizen, their spouse, and their minor children, we are committed to bringing out. That’s what the law provides under the Immigration and Naturalization Act. It’s also what the other laws provide for. If we want to be more expansive than that, we invite comments.
Representative Claudia Tenney: (02:20:32)
I’ve got a quick question. Thank you. I appreciate that. Mr. Secretary, would you agree that it would have been safer to evacuate these people had the US and allied troops remained in Afghanistan?
Secretary Blinken: (02:20:43)
Had we remained in Afghanistan?
Representative Claudia Tenney: (02:20:45)
No, the question is do you think it would have been safer to evacuate…? [Crosstalk 02:20:48]
Secretary Blinken: (02:20:49)
No. I highly doubt that, because had we remained in Afghanistan beyond May 1st, we would have been back at war with the Taliban not only firing on our forces, but also assaulting the cities.
Representative Claudia Tenney: (02:21:00)
Would it have been safer if US service members, Allied troops were in Afghanistan while we were evacuating these people? Do agree that it would have been safer?
Secretary Blinken: (02:21:10)
I apologize. I missed the last part. Could you repeat it please?
Representative Claudia Tenney: (02:21:14)
Yeah. I said, do you agree that it would have been safer to evacuate the people that I described, American citizens, green card holders, and other, had we kept the US troops and Allied troops there first, and evacuated them later?
Secretary Blinken: (02:21:30)
Oh, I see. Again, if the Defense Department, the government as a whole engaged in the draw down from Afghanistan. But the single most important factor was the collapse of the Afghan security forces and the Afghan government in 11 days. That’s what radically changed the situation.
Rep. Meeks: (02:21:54)
The lady’s time has expired. I now recognize Representative Abigail Spanberger of Virginia who’s the Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on Europe, Energy and Environment and Cyber for five minutes.
Representative Abigail Spanberger: (02:22:08)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. And Mr. Secretary, thank you for being with us today. My first question is specific to Afghan allies. And for those of us who have been working directly with people on the ground, trying to get folks out, as I know you have, it’s been a really challenging time. And I think one of the lessons here, one of the takeaways for me is that we must always plan for the worst case scenario, because I think we saw a confluence of worst case scenarios come to fruition.
Representative Abigail Spanberger: (02:22:37)
So on that end, I would note that in your opening remarks, you stated that we expect the Taliban to ensure freedom of travel, make good on its CT commitments, uphold the basic rights of the Afghan people, including women, girls, minorities, and name a broadly representative, permanent government. But I have also seen videos of women and girls being beaten by the Taliban. I know there have been night letters that have been posted on doors, marking people for interrogation or assassination. I have received photos and written testimonies of some of the beatings and targetings that have occurred. And murders and beatings have been documented against those who have helped the United States. And so, sir, I would begin by asking, have you seen any of these videos? Have they made their way to you as well?
Secretary Blinken: (02:23:27)
Yes. I’ve seen videos. I’ve seen reports. I’ve read news accounts. Yes. And these incidents are deeply, deeply disturbing.
Representative Abigail Spanberger: (02:23:37)
So looking towards the future, recognizing that perhaps we should here plan for the absolute worst case scenario, is the department talking through what the contingencies are in the scenario in which the Taliban does not do the things that you stated are our expectations and hopes?
Secretary Blinken: (02:23:58)
In short, yes.
Representative Abigail Spanberger: (02:24:00)
Okay. And thank you for that. And I also just want to thank every person on the ground, every person who’s been so helpful. I represent many, many in the veterans community who have focused exclusively on ensuring that those who helped keep them alive and those who work side-by-side with them would have a chance at a better life in the future. And so I’m grateful for their service and their work. I recently sent a letter to you, sir, focused on border crossings. And I know there’s been some progress towards working with border nations about the possibility of them opening the borders. Could you just briefly comment on what the status is related to the ability to exfiltrate people or allow people to cross at borders?
Secretary Blinken: (02:24:45)
Yes. Thank you. And I saw the letter, and I thank you for it. We’ve been working with a number of countries, including Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan to ensure that ideally their borders will remain open overall, but certainly that they would remain open to American citizens, green card holders, visa holders, who seek to leave and who were assisting and leaving. And we have a basic agreements with all three countries that that’ll be the case. And so the work now is to be able to see people start… As we saw last week with the flights that left Kabul for Qatar, that started to happen.
Representative Abigail Spanberger: (02:25:25)
Thank you so very much, Mr. Secretary. And please, if any of that changes, I ask that you keep us apprised so that we can be helpful as possible. And last week I visited Fort Pickett, which is in my district to see Operations Allies Welcome firsthand. And I saw thousands of Afghan children, women, and men who made it out of Afghanistan. It’s a testament to a whole of government approach, public servants, US service members, NGO workers, and volunteers standing up an incredible effort on very, very short notice. On behalf of the communities that I represent, I would just want to reiterate the importance of really ensuring that the inter-agency team engages and communicates with local government. I was very happy to learn about the health screenings on the ground and the initiation of English language classes that have begun on-site. I hope that continues. But I am curious, how long do you anticipate Operations Ally Welcome will continue to utilize military installations across the United States, including the one that’s in my district?
Secretary Blinken: (02:26:23)
Well, thank you. And I’m really grateful for that support, the engagement of the community. It makes all the difference. And I want to make sure, too, like you, that we have the right connectivity, that we’re talking and coordinating with the local community. We have to make sure that we have the ability to put people into the resettlement process with resettlement agencies across the United States. We’re determined to move them as expeditiously as possible. Let me come back to you with a better timeframe, because we also have to do it mindful of making sure we complete any security checks that are necessary.
Representative Abigail Spanberger: (02:27:04)
And I do appreciate the robust security provisions that I witnessed when I was visiting. And I have run out of time, though I have many more questions. I appreciate your time, Mr. Secretary. I yield back.
Secretary Blinken: (02:27:15)
Rep. Meeks: (02:27:15)
The lady’s time has expired. I now recognize Representative August Pfluger of Texas, who is the vice ranking member for the Subcommittee on Europe, Energy, the Environment and Cyber for five minutes. You’re muted, Mr. Pfluger. Please unmute. We’ll come back to Mr. Pfluger. I now recognize Representative Nicole Malliotakis of New York, who’s the ranking member for the Subcommittee on International Development, International Organization and Global Corporate Social Impact for five minutes.
Representative Nicole Malliotakis: (02:28:03)
Thank you. Thank you Mr. Chairman. And thank you secretary for being with us today and answering our questions and concerns. You said that the Afghanistan mission was “successful.” I speak for millions of Americans when I say that it was a kick in the gut to see our American military vehicles parading in the streets with the Taliban flags. This has been a real hasty withdrawal, US citizens unable to get through the gates. The SIV process was a mess. Our offices had to work with veterans on the ground because we couldn’t get responses in some cases from the State Department. And we still have 100 American citizens still behind enemy lines, which is the same number that it was two weeks ago. And of course the 13 soldiers who were killed. So I don’t know how anyone can call that a success. But then again, it’s coming from an administration who has misled the American people throughout this entire withdrawal.
Representative Nicole Malliotakis: (02:29:01)
Today you said the Taliban is committed to not allowing Afghanistan to be used as a base for terrorism. The Taliban, as you said, is a designated terrorist organization itself. It harbored Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden leading up to 9/11. And the US government has also designated the Haqqani Network, a foreign terrorist organization. Mr. Haqqani, as you know, is now one of the Taliban’s new cabinet members. He’s on the FBI Most Wanted List. We have a $10 million reward for information leading to his arrest. I fear that this is a type of weakness, and credulity that has gotten us in the situation that we’re currently in.
Representative Nicole Malliotakis: (02:29:43)
The FBI still has even questions for the Haqqani Network. January 2008 attack at a Kabul hotel that killed one American and five others, a 2011 suicide truck bomb in Wardak Province that wounded 77 American soldiers. Now that we have no presence on the ground in Afghanistan, how is the administration working to ensure that the same terrorists do not attack Americans again, just as it did at the Kabul airport? And how can you trust the Taliban to say that they’re going to do this and actually work to prevent terrorism when they’re a terrorist network themselves? And what have they told you about rooting out ISIS-K who is responsible for those 13 soldiers deaths?
Secretary Blinken: (02:30:30)
Thank you, Congressman. First of all, it’s not about trusting the Taliban at all. It’s about holding them to the commitments they’ve made, not just to us, but to the international community when it comes to not allowing Afghanistan to become a haven for outwardly directed terrorism. There are two groups that you pointed to that are very important in this. One is ISIS-K, the group that killed our servicemen and women just a couple weeks ago in Afghanistan. As it happens, one thing one could say about the Taliban is that they and ISIS-K are sworn enemies. And the Taliban has spent the last five years, even as its been relentlessly been moving to take more territory, to also take territory away from ISIS-K as it sought to implant itself in Afghanistan. And they remain very much at odds.
Secretary Blinken: (02:31:17)
And I think the greater question with regard to ISIS-K, is less whether the Taliban has the intent and more whether it has the capacity to effectively deal with it. But over the last five or six years, it took away virtually all of the territory that it held. Then you rightly point to Al-Qaeda. The ability of that group to engage in outwardly directed homeland-focused terrorist attacks has been dramatically degraded. And the assessment of the community right now is that they do not currently have that capacity. Having said that, we will remain extremely vigilant to detect any reemergence of that capability. And of course, take action against it if it reemerges. And as we were talking about a little bit earlier, we’d welcome the opportunity to go into more detail about that in a different setting.
Representative Nicole Malliotakis: (02:32:03)
I would appreciate that, because I am very concerned that the government is relying on the Taliban for counter-terrorism, and that should not be something that we should even be flirting with. But in addition to that, just while we were in this hearing $64 million, it’s being reported, in additional aid to Afghanistan. And how do we know and how can you guarantee the American people that this isn’t going to end up in the hands of the Taliban, just like our military equipment and vehicles and weapons did?
Secretary Blinken: (02:32:33)
It’s an important question Congresswoman. And here’s what I would say. That money and any other humanitarian assistance we provide will not be provided to the government of Afghanistan. It’s provided to NGOs that we’ve worked with for many, many years and to UN agencies that we’ve worked with for many, many years. And they have tried and true mechanisms in place to make sure that the assistance gets to the people who need it, not to the government.
Representative Nicole Malliotakis: (02:32:58)
Well, I still question that. I don’t agree with this decision at this time. I do believe that we need to be concerned even about NGOs that are doing work on the ground.
Rep. Meeks: (02:33:08)
The lady’s time has expired.
Representative Nicole Malliotakis: (02:33:08)
And child brides. If you can touch on that, just where the status…
Rep. Meeks: (02:33:14)
The general lady’s time has expired and I’ll recognize Representative Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania for five minutes.
Representative Chrissy Houlahan: (02:33:21)
Thank you, Mr. Chair. And thank you, Mr. Secretary. I know that most Americans are still supportive of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. And I also know that the airlift was a remarkable and historic in its scale, but I do think that this process was not without its missteps. And now we do have some opportunities from which to draw on these lessons and hopefully have the ability to together steer ourselves more positively into the future.
Representative Chrissy Houlahan: (02:33:46)
So I do have some questions and I think it’s important to point out that it’s appropriate within Congress’s constitutional role and responsibility of oversight to ask these questions. I really do this in the spirit of my responsibility, not in the spirit of whether a D or an R is in the White House. In the 20 years that this war has happened, there has been ample opportunity to spread blame all around. And I can also say that both R’s and D’s on this committee have personally served themselves. And I can personally understand the pain and anxiety that many of us are feeling during this very important and contentious discussion. Our pain and anxiety knows no party, and no party owns patriotism.
Representative Chrissy Houlahan: (02:34:25)
That said, here is my first question, Mr. Secretary. In July the US military left Bagram Airfield. And on August 15th, the State Department made the decision to close the Embassy Chancery and evacuate to the airport. What drove that decision to withdraw from Bagram and a few weeks later to close the embassy? Sir, I know that you reflected that it was largely the DOD’s decision to vacate Bagram, but it certainly was your decision and responsibility with the embassy.
Secretary Blinken: (02:34:52)
Thank you. And I very much appreciate the spirit with which you’re asking these very important questions, as well as the oversight role that Congress plays. It is central to our system. With regard to Bagram, this was part of the draw down plan for the military. Again, the base was handed over to the Afghan National Security and Defense forces, I believe on July 2nd. I leave it to my colleagues to get into the details of that. But in essence, as we were drawing down, force protection is job one. It would have taken very significant forces remaining in place to defend Bagram. And in terms of departures from Afghanistan, and this was before the collapse of the government and the security forces, the airport in Kabul was a much better place to do that from. Bagram, as you know, is about 40 miles outside of the city, so getting there is a challenge. [crosstalk 02:35:53] At the end of the day… I’m sorry. Go ahead.
Representative Chrissy Houlahan: (02:35:56)
If it’s okay, I would like to lead into my next question, because I think it relates to that. I do want to understand something that many of us remain unclear on, which is the timelines that were out laid out, both publicly and privately for withdrawal. And they may have something to do with the decision to vacate Bagram and the embassy. I empathize that you were given an agenda and not necessarily a plan from a prior administration. But as far as I can tell, September 11th was announced publicly as a date certain by which we needed to be gone, as was August 31st later on. And I was always led to believe that that telegraphing, let alone speaking out loud the dates that you were planning on doing things was something you should not signal to your enemy. Why did we do that? Can you help me understand that? And did that somehow drive the Bagram decision and the embassy decision?
Secretary Blinken: (02:36:43)
Sure. No. This all goes to the fact that as we’ve been discussing earlier, we inherited an agreement that required us to leave Afghanistan by May 1st. And had we not made good on that agreement, then we would have seen a resumption of the war with Taliban forces firing once again on us and our partners and seeking to take over the cities, which would have required us to put in more forces… [crosstalk 02:37:04]
Representative Chrissy Houlahan: (02:37:04)
There was some magic to September 11th that I just don’t understand.
Secretary Blinken: (02:37:13)
In doing our work on how to deal with May 1st, the military told us that in order to, as they put it, retrograde in an orderly and safe manner, they needed three to four months to do it the right way. And so the president took a risk in pushing past the May 1st deadline in terms of actually getting everyone out, but making it clear that we were doing that to meet the commitment that his predecessor had made. And you get to September by those three to four months that the military said it needed to retrograde in a safe and orderly manner.
Representative Chrissy Houlahan: (02:37:53)
And sir, with my remaining time, once September 11th had been decided, it was also clear that we were on a very much more rapid path than September 11th, which we pulled out troops that could have been around longer. And then we ended up having to bring back troops. Why did we decide a date and then escalate the date and make it even more rapid? And I’m sorry, I only have seven seconds of my time. So I’ll have to take that.
Secretary Blinken: (02:38:17)
Sure. I’m happy to come back to you, but in essence, everything changed when the government and the Afghan National Security forces collapsed over 11 days in August. And then we moved into an emergency evacuation situation. And what was critical in order to do that? To get American citizens out, to get Afghans at-risk out, was to make sure that we had control of the airport. And to do that as effectively as possible, the president had forces on standby for exactly this kind of emergency or contingency to make sure that we could go in, secure the airport, which we did in 72 hours, and get flights moving out of the airport. So that’s why those forces on standby went back in, to secure the airport so we could do the evacuation.
Representative Chrissy Houlahan: (02:39:00)
Sure, I’ve run out of time. I yield back.
Rep. Meeks: (02:39:02)
General lady’s time has expired. I now, again, reach out to Representative August Pfluger of Texas for five minutes.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:39:10)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Can you hear me?
Rep. Meeks: (02:39:12)
Yes, we hear you.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:39:13)
Thank you. [inaudible 02:39:14]
Rep. Meeks: (02:39:14)
You’re breaking up, Mr. Pfluger.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:39:28)
Rep. Meeks: (02:39:30)
You’re breaking up.
Secretary Blinken: (02:39:30)
I’m sorry, Mr. Chairman. I couldn’t hear the Congressman.
Rep. Meeks: (02:39:34)
I could not hear either. Mr. Pfluger, we could not hear you. You broke up.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:39:38)
Okay. Can you hear me now?
Rep. Meeks: (02:39:40)
Hear you better.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:39:42)
Yep. Okay. I’d like to start by saying thank you, to Ambassador Rosenblum, and also to Deputy Secretary Viguerie for their help in getting the Afghan pilots out of Uzbekistan to their onward destination. I now want to ask a very pointed question, Mr. Secretary. Are there any American hostages being held in Afghanistan?
Representative August Pfluger: (02:40:01)
… hostages being held in Afghanistan.
Secretary Blinken: (02:40:03)
Mark Frerichs, who is of great concern to me and to the entire administration, who’s been hostage there going back a couple of years, and who we work on every single day to bring back home.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:40:22)
Are there any other American hostages being held?
Secretary Blinken: (02:40:25)
To the best of my knowledge, no.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:40:28)
Are we going to bring Mark Frerichs home now that we have left Afghanistan?
Secretary Blinken: (02:40:34)
We are doing everything in our power, as we had been and as the previous administration was doing.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:40:40)
Who is holding Mark Frerichs right now?
Secretary Blinken: (02:40:45)
I’d be happy to take that up in a different setting.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:40:49)
So, would it be fair to say that this is going to be very difficult to bring him home now that we’ve left Afghanistan?
Secretary Blinken: (02:40:56)
It was obviously extremely difficult since it didn’t happen over the last couple of years and we’re determined though, to see that through.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:41:07)
Have you received any classified briefings on the situation as it relates to the terror threat inside Afghanistan, classified briefings, recently?
Secretary Blinken: (02:41:16)
We get briefings, yes, on a regular basis on-
Representative August Pfluger: (02:41:21)
Would you characterize those as positive, like the world is a safer place? Or negative, like that threat is rising?
Secretary Blinken: (02:41:29)
Well, you understand, I don’t want to get into any details in this setting. Again, happy to come back to you, but it very much depends on what you’re looking at. If you’re looking at outwardly directed threats against the homeland and against others outside of Afghanistan, the basic assessment is the groups in question currently do not have that capacity. But, that could change and that’s why we’re being extremely vigilant to see it, if it re-emerges and to do something about it if it does.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:42:00)
At the 9/11 museum in New York City, and I’ll read in the bin Laden museum of that, “The al-Qaeda, with Taliban’s permission to operate in Afghanistan, pursued its campaign against the US and its allies. The Taliban provided al-Qaeda members with passports and stamps, allowing them to travel freely and import vehicles, weapons, and money.” I find it hard to believe that so much has changed in a 20 year period that now that threat has been mitigated. How many evacuees have met criteria as known or suspected terrorists at this point in time at our Lily-Pad locations?
Secretary Blinken: (02:42:37)
No one [inaudible 02:42:38] I don’t have that information. We’re engaged in a extremely vigorous verification process involving multiple agencies, law enforcement, intelligence security. No one will get to the United States who-
Representative August Pfluger: (02:42:56)
Where are they going when they pop on either KST or some other similar list, where are they going, what are we doing with them?
Secretary Blinken: (02:43:04)
We have a number of countries, I think as you know, where we’re transiting anyone coming out of Afghanistan. That’s where the initial checks are done. And if we need more time on those checks to verify something, they stay in place or they move to another location where we have arrangements to make sure that we have the time we need to go through all of the checks before they get to the United States.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:43:30)
Thank you. We’ve requested, in a bipartisan manner, to conduct oversight and have been denied that ability at the Lily-Pads. We will continue to press. It’s not right to be denied that that oversight. Mr. Secretary, did the President follow best military advice to the letter on the execution of the withdrawal as he stated in his speech recently?
Secretary Blinken: (02:43:56)
Yes. And when it comes to… For example, the question of August 31st. It was the unanimous recommendation of the military, starting with the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the Secretary of Defense, all of the commanders on the ground to move forward with getting out by the 31st. Because as they said, if we did not do that, the risk to force and the risk to mission would be exponentially high.
Representative August Pfluger: (02:44:26)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary, do you feel that the United States of America has abandoned our citizens?
Secretary Blinken: (02:44:33)
No, absolutely not. On the contrary. On the contrary, we’ve made-
Representative August Pfluger: (02:44:38)
Thank yo very much Mr. Secretary. I appreciate your responses, and with that I yield back.
Secretary Blinken: (02:44:42)
Thank you, Congressman.
Rep. Meeks: (02:44:45)
I now recognize Representative Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, who’s the vice chair of the full committee, for five minutes.
Tom Malinowski: (02:44:51)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Mr. Secretary. As someone who was screaming about this from the rooftops at the time, I can count on one hand the number of my colleagues from the other side who joined in expressing any concern about the former president inviting the Taliban to Camp David or the shameful surrender agreement that undoubtedly set us on the path to this tragedy. And if anybody believes that the previous administration would have evacuated any Afghans to the United States, much less tens of thousands as President Biden did, I would suggest that they ask the Kurds their opinion of that.
Tom Malinowski: (02:45:28)
That said, those of us who’ve been consistent about this, I think, are entitled to say that it was also a mistake for this administration to pick up where President Trump left off. It’s certainly true that we were never going to be able to fix what was wrong with Afghanistan. That doesn’t mean that we were obliged to sacrifice everything that was right with Afghanistan, and the sacrifice I think is profound.
Tom Malinowski: (02:45:54)
An extremely important counter-terrorism partnership was lost, and a terrorist state is now upon us. Enormous gains for women, for the rule of law, for democracy, for human rights, mass displacement. The Afghans remade their society. We didn’t do it, they did. It was our withdrawal, I am afraid, that has unmade their society. And what have we gained for this?
Tom Malinowski: (02:46:19)
Our troops are not coming home, we just need to be honest about that. They’re merely moving to other bases in the same region to conduct the same counter-terrorism missions, including in Afghanistan, but from a longer distance with no partners on the ground, no NATO allies on the ground, presumably more civilian casualties. That drone strike in Kabul was not the last act of our war, it was unfortunately the first act of the next stage of our war.
Tom Malinowski: (02:46:45)
Now, I don’t want to ask you to respond to all of that. I think this is just a philosophical difference that we’ll have to rest. I do want to ask you, Mr. Secretary, about the next stage of this evacuation to which I know you’re committed. There was one Afghan woman in particular that I worked to get out, one of many. An activist, I won’t name her, she was on social media, interviewed by the international media a lot, tremendously at risk. Tried to get to the airport several times, once got on a bus that a third country had organized, was taken off that bus.
Tom Malinowski: (02:47:19)
And again to be honest, we, in the very short time we had before August 31st, we were never able to make the evacuation of those Afghans at risk a priority. The message that we got from the State Department was if they got to HKIA we would try to evacuate them, but that they were in effect on their own to get them, or dependent on private groups to get there.
Tom Malinowski: (02:47:43)
My question for you today, very practically, is whether with this new phase, with most Americans out, with the airport restarting operations, whether the State Department will proactively prioritize trying to get individuals like that women’s rights activist out. And let me say what I mean by that, specifically. Will the State Department, for example, reach out to all the private groups and NGOs that have been working on this to try to consolidate and rationalize these lists that they have, and that you have? Will you work to try to proactively contact these people, to get them visas either to the United States or visas that we can encourage third countries to give them? And would we work then proactively with countries like Qatar, that are still in place, to try to arrange for safe rides to the airport?
Secretary Blinken: (02:48:39)
Congressmen, in short, yes. And I think we do have to do everything we can to bring some of these lists together to the extent that hasn’t happened, and ultimately to prioritize those who are most at risk. Our priorities, going forward, are of course on any remaining American citizens who wish to leave. As well as on the special immigrant visa applicants who worked side-by-side with us over the years, and Afghans at risk. I think we do need to make sure that we’re looking at everything that different organizations are providing, members of Congress are providing, so that we can identify those who we believe to be at the highest risk and we can focus on that population.
Tom Malinowski: (02:49:21)
Thank you. What I’m hoping is that you’re very proactive about this, rather than putting the burden on them to find a way out of the country first. And then finally, very quickly, I know you’ve searched all kinds of personnel to Germany and to other places where people we evacuated on our planes came out. Are you willing to do the same for Afghans who were brought by private groups to countries like Albania?
Secretary Blinken: (02:49:47)
We want to make sure that we have in place wherever necessary the personnel required to help process people and to make sure that we can do what checks are necessary, and then also to support their efforts to move from their initial landing place to an ultimate destination.
Tom Malinowski: (02:50:04)
Thank you. I yield back.
Rep. Meeks: (02:50:05)
The gentleman’s time has expired. I now recognize Representative Peter Meijer of Michigan for five minutes.
Peter Meijer: (02:50:12)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Mr. Secretary, for coming before us today. I just want to do two quick clarifications on some of the questions that my colleagues asked. Number one, Congressman Green asked whether or not the Taliban was a terrorist organization, you said, yes. I’m assuming you’re referring to their listing as a specially designated global terrorist?
Secretary Blinken: (02:50:34)
Peter Meijer: (02:50:34)
They’re not on the foreign terrorist organization list, correct?
Secretary Blinken: (02:50:37)
Thank you for clarifying that. That’s correct.
Peter Meijer: (02:50:40)
And then Congresswoman Houlahan had asked earlier… And you had answered part of this question, but you didn’t get to one component of it. She was asking about why the deadline had been changed from September 11th, which it appears the Taliban had consented to and had acknowledged, to August 31st. I didn’t hear a response from you on that front.
Secretary Blinken: (02:51:03)
The deadline that the Taliban repeatedly made clear that they were looking to was August 31st, and we got that in various ways, in various communications. So, one risk, and you have to assess it is, had we pushed beyond that, what actions mights have taken place?
Peter Meijer: (02:51:29)
Mr. Secretary, I certainly understand the risks of pushing for that August 31st deadline. I had initially believed that that was necessary and then understood the position we were in would not allow for that. But I want to also get at something that we had discussed earlier, you had mentioned several times these emails that the Statement Department had sent to Americans who were in Afghanistan, warning them to leave.
Secretary Blinken: (02:51:50)
Peter Meijer: (02:51:51)
As somebody who was a civilian in Afghanistan, I remember getting alarmist emails from the State Department all the time. So, I can also understand if they had a little bit of fatigue in being told the sky was falling, and I’m also sure there was maybe some changes to verbiage that maybe didn’t come across as much. But I guess, I’m a little bit challenged to square that with the delay that we saw from… As a member of the Honoring Our Promises working group on special immigrant visa applicants, we had reached out to the administration on April 21st imploring, urging to clear the backlog and I understand some logistical hurdles there. We worked to expedite and streamline the processes. But still, if we were so concerned that we were sending these grim emails that Americans should have received and left the country immediately, how come we weren’t moving more quickly? Why did it take 99 days before the first charter flight took special immigrant visa applicants out?
Secretary Blinken: (02:52:48)
Yeah. So two things, and of course as you know Congressman because you know this so well, it’s a complicated process. But two things very quickly. First of all, with regard to the American citizens that were there. The warnings were increasingly explicit and we wanted to make sure to the best of our ability, because we were in a very volatile security situation and we had an obligation first and foremost to any American citizens who were there to put them on notice and to strongly urge them to leave while there were clearly commercial means to do so.
Secretary Blinken: (02:53:21)
With regard to the special immigrant visa. And I know your commitment to this, which I deeply, deeply appreciate. Again, we were in a massive acceleration of the program starting from February. Not from when things… When the government and security forces imploded. And we had a program, as we discussed, that was pretty much in a dead stall. We had an executive order from the President and on February 4th ordering us to improve it. We went from 100 visas a week to 1000 a week, from March to late July. So we were in the process of doing that. And then of course, we put in place something that’s not even called for, which was Operation Allies refuge which actually flew people out, which as you know is not part of the [crosstalk 02:54:02] to do all that.
Peter Meijer: (02:54:02)
Of course. My deep regret is that it took so long, because obviously we had that concern expressing it to citizens, but talking with folks behind the scenes and still understanding some of the procedure and logistical impediments, I just, I wish we would’ve had that task force appointee earlier.
Secretary Blinken: (02:54:18)
It’s something I hope we can keep working on together, going forward.
Peter Meijer: (02:54:22)
[crosstalk 02:54:22] Mr. Secretary. I just also want to touch upon something. You’ve mentioned multiple times that some of the folks who are left behind are dual nationals. Do you make a distinction or prioritization between native born American citizens by birth and those who are naturalized citizens?
Secretary Blinken: (02:54:38)
We do not. It’s really by means of explanation of why this decision is so hard for some people. Which is to say that, especially in the case of dual nationals, often it’s people whose entire life has been in Afghanistan, that’s really what they know as home. And that just explains why, literally, people have been going back and forth, “Do we want to leave? Do we not want to leave?” [crosstalk 02:54:58]
Peter Meijer: (02:54:58)
Mr. Secretary, in some of these cases those individuals have maybe not a direct dependent, maybe not a wife or husband, maybe not a son or daughter, but they might have a brother or sister who is SIV eligible or has had that approved, and those flights are being delayed. So please work to free the planes in Mazar-i-Sharif, and I yield back my time.
Secretary Blinken: (02:55:14)
Rep. Meeks: (02:55:14)
I now recognize Representative Andy Kim of New Jersey for five minutes.
Andy Kim: (02:55:20)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman and Mr. Secretary. I wanted to drill down on some elements that you talked about. You talk about the challenge that we faced a month ago as a collapse of the Afghan security forces as well as the Afghan government. And I wanted to unpack that a little bit. From your assessment, now we have a month behind us, was this a situation where the Afghan Security Forces did not fight, or was this a situation that they were not given the orders to fight or given a strategy to actually implement that? I wanted to see if there was a greater sense of granularity that you have on that.
Secretary Blinken: (02:55:58)
I think it was a combination of both factors, and you’re right to point to them. But I think that, to some large extent, those security forces were ill-served by the leadership that they had in giving them a coherent plan. Throughout the summer, we were pressing and obviously the experts were pressing, our military leaders and other experts. But also me, in conversations that I had with then President Ghani, and others to put in place an effective plan. And, in particular, to make sure that they were consolidating all their forces to more effectively defend the major cities, Kabul and large provincial capitals. And so, in the absence, despite extensive efforts to get them to adopt those plans, I think that made it a lot harder on the security forces that wanted to fight.
Andy Kim: (02:56:48)
Yeah. No, I think so and I think, look, this is going to be one of the most important questions when we look back at this and try to understand and diagnose where the problem was. A related element to this is, it’s a question I’ve actually asked to some State Department staff and senior staff before, but I wanted to get your take on it. Mr. Secretary, did former president Ashraf Ghani secure anything for his people with his departure, or did he flee as a coward?
Secretary Blinken: (02:57:18)
Look, I don’t want to characterize his departure other than to say that, that combined with, as an institution, the Afghan Security Forces not putting up resistance and all of this taking place in the space of 11 days, obviously, is what put us into this emergency evacuation situation.
Andy Kim: (02:57:40)
Did you have any prior knowledge that he was going to flee? Or did you hear about it when he announced it on social media?
Secretary Blinken: (02:57:46)
I spoke to President Ghani on a Saturday night, and this was when we were in the process of working in Doha to try to organize a transfer of power and toward a representative government and to see that he would participate in that. And what he told me in that conversation was that he would, he would go along with that effort. But, if the Taliban wouldn’t, he would, and I paraphrase, fight to the death. That was Saturday night, he left the next day. I had no advanced warning of that.
Andy Kim: (02:58:23)
Mr. Secretary, I wanted to ask you if you’ve personally spoken to any Taliban leadership?
Secretary Blinken: (02:58:28)
I have not.
Andy Kim: (02:58:31)
I guess the question is, are you actively choosing not to speak to them? Is this a point of leverage and legitimacy in your mind? And if that is the case, who is the most senior person in US government right now talking directly to the Taliban and who is their counterpart on the other side?
Secretary Blinken: (02:58:48)
We’ve made very clear to the Taliban, as have countries around the world with our leadership and organization, that any legitimacy that they may seek from the international community, any support that they may be looking for is going to be contingent on their actions. And basically the nature of the relationship that they might have with us or anyone else will be defined by what they do.
Andy Kim: (02:59:17)
[crosstalk 02:59:17] Just in terms of what’s happening right now, who is the most senior person-
Secretary Blinken: (02:59:20)
Yes. We’ve had a political channel with them going back to the previous administration, with a team that does engage them politically and Ambassador Khalilzad has been leading that effort but with other members of the team, they’re the ones. As well as our mission in Doha, the Afghanistan Affairs Mission once the embassy shutdown was moved to Doha. Ian McCary, who runs that, is also engaging with their political commission members in Doha.
Andy Kim: (02:59:52)
And just a final question here. There’s a lot that we need to unpack over the course of 20 years and certainly these different committees we’re on in Congress will see different elements of it, the political side, the diplomatic side and military intelligence, etc. But I wanted to ask you, would the administration support a 9/11-like independent commission that would look across all of these different pillars to try to assess an analysis of what happened?
Secretary Blinken: (03:00:17)
I can’t speak for the administration on that. All I can say is that, as others have said, we’re all going to do our hot washes, to use the vernacular, on the last nine months since we’ve been in office. And, I hope and expect that all of us will engage in a review of the last 20 years
Andy Kim: (03:00:39)
Great. Thank you, Mr. Secretary.
Rep. Meeks: (03:00:41)
The gentleman’s time has expired. I now recognize Representative Ronny Jackson of Texas, who is the vice ranking member for the subcommittee on Africa, global health and global human rights for five minutes.
Ronny Jackson: (03:00:51)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Secretary, how many members of the State Department were killed in the recent evacuation efforts in Kabul?
Secretary Blinken: (03:01:00)
Members of the State Department killed?
Ronny Jackson: (03:01:01)
Secretary Blinken: (03:01:02)
Ronny Jackson: (03:01:03)
Okay. Mr. Secretary, in your earlier testimony you stated that members of the State Department ran into the airport and were serving side by side with the Marines at that gate. Although I deeply appreciate any and all efforts of the State Department personnel on the ground to rescue American citizens, for you to try and ride the coattails of the 13 brave service members that gave their lives in this effort is absolutely shameful in my mind. And it really shows the American people how out of touch you continue to be.
Secretary Blinken: (03:01:28)
I’m not riding anyone’s coattails, Congressman. For your information, the men and women of my department were at the gates [crosstalk 03:01:36]
Ronny Jackson: (03:01:38)
It was a statement, not a question. It was a statement, not a question. Secretary Blinken, exactly one week ago four of my constituents escaped Afghanistan. The first known to leave the country since your administration abandoned American citizens in Kabul on the 30th of August. Your officials left this young mother and her three children behind, the youngest was two years old. The family remained hidden and terrified for 12 long days until my team and the group of brave patriots on the ground facilitated their evacuation.
Ronny Jackson: (03:02:04)
During this time, the State Department did nothing to help this family. Instead, you directed them to go to the Taliban checkpoints repeatedly, where the mother eventually had a pistol placed to her head, and then told them to stay in their homes as the Taliban went door to door searching for American citizens and Afghan allies. All while you were vacationing in the Hamptons and your diplomats were safe in Doha.
Ronny Jackson: (03:02:24)
Then miraculously, after their safe arrival, the State Department jumped in to claim full responsibility for what had happened. The response from your team is revolting. It takes credit from the brave patriots who risk their lives to actually bring my constituents home safely. Mr. Secretary, did you even know of this family’s existence until you wanted to take credit for their harrowing journey? Also, can you explain exactly what your team did to help them escape Afghanistan?
Secretary Blinken: (03:02:51)
My team has been working 24/7, around the clock and around the world, to get every American citizen who wishes to leave Afghanistan and their families out. They’ve been putting themselves on the line, they’ve been putting everything on the line to do that. I very much applaud the efforts that people including yourself have engaged in to do the same thing, to help bring people out. And I’m glad that we’re able to work together to do that. Including, in this case, where to the best of my knowledge we facilitated their departure from Afghanistan, including making sure that we worked to get Taliban to allow them to leave, as well as working at the border with consular officials to make sure that they could be received when they got to Uzbekistan, and cared for. So I’m glad that we were able to do that together. This is not about taking credit. I applaud the work that’s been done, including by you. And I hope going forward, we can continue to do even more of that in closer cooperation and coordination to get any remaining American citizens who wish to leave, out.
Ronny Jackson: (03:03:54)
Mr. Secretary. While I do thank you for coming to this committee meeting today, I do thank you for staying the extra time so that you could actually hear my statement and my question. I do have to say that I’m deeply disappointed in your administration’s actions and what I consider to be your gross incompetence. Not only did you risk countless American lives by prematurely and haphazardly withdrawing from Afghanistan, but in the aftermath, you have tried to act as if you’ve made zero mistakes and there’s been a continuous effort in the State Department to pat yourselves on the back. Which, most Americans at this particular point do not appreciate.
Ronny Jackson: (03:04:25)
Your tone deaf approach and your attempts to spin the truth and claim victory from this clear blunder is deeply disturbing. This includes your disgusting attempts to seize credit for this evacuation of my constituents. We will find out later, which I think you had very little, if anything, to do with. You and the rest of the Biden administration owe the American people an apology. You have ruined any trust we have with our allies and any credibility we have on the world stage. With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back. Thank you.
Rep. Meeks: (03:04:48)
The gentleman yields back. I now recognized Representative Sarah Jacobs of California, who’s the vice chair of the sub committee on international development, international organizations and global corporate social impact, for five minutes.
Sarah Jacobs: (03:05:04)
Well, thank you so much, Mr. Chair. And thank you Mr. Secretary for answering our questions and for staying so that some of us more junior members get a chance to ask you questions as well. I first wanted to say that, while I have been publicly critical of many of the decisions made around the evacuation as a member of the Honoring our Promises working group… As you know, I used to work at the State Department and I’ve talked to so many former colleagues and friends who were on the ground in Kabul, who were working or tirelessly night and day, no sleep for weeks on end, trying to get people out. And I think it’s an incredible disservice to our diplomatic corps and to the brave people who work there every single day to say that they are not deserving of praise. I disagree with some of the things that were made, but the people doing the work around the clock deserve to be praised.
Secretary Blinken: (03:06:00)
Sarah Jacobs: (03:06:01)
Now, I want to raise a letter I sent with Senator Merkley and many of my colleagues. While I remain committed to working to get people out of Afghanistan with my colleagues, I also want to make sure that we are doing everything we can to deliver humanitarian assistance and urging the Treasury Department to issue an OFAC general license. So, I look forward to working with you and the administration to make sure that the 18 million Afghans that are in need are provided support. I think we heard just today from the UN how dire that that need is.
Sarah Jacobs: (03:06:36)
I also think, we talked a lot about policy failures and the last few months in the last 20 years, and I know you’re still absorbing the lessons of the past few decades and I look forward to working with you on that and on the lessons learned, especially as someone who has done a lot of work in peace building and conflict stabilization. I wanted to follow up on something you addressed with my colleague Mr. Phillips. On a very specific failure we encountered over and over again in Afghanistan, and that’s on corruption, why was the State Department unable to address this issue over 20 years? And what can we do to make sure that, as we work with other countries and promote good governance around the globe, that we are not continuing to have those same problems?
Secretary Blinken: (03:07:16)
Yeah. That is a great question, and one that I don’t have a good answer to because it’s manifestly a failure of our policy over the last 20 years and one that we need to address. Because, ultimately, that corruption, I think, among other things undermined any trust or confidence in the government, as well as allegiance to the government. So when you’re asking Afghan Security Forces to fight for their country and to fight for a government when there’s that much corruption that’s endemic, it’s awfully hard to get that allegiance.
Secretary Blinken: (03:07:57)
You’re 100% right to point to that problem. We’re putting a special emphasis in the Department writ large, on trying to more effectively combat corruption around the world. And I think we need to understand very much the lessons of Afghanistan as part of that effort. We certainly welcome working with you and others on that, because we see this around the world as a source of profound instability.
Sarah Jacobs: (03:08:22)
Well, I appreciate that. I’ll look forward to working with you on that and especially looking at how the way we do our assistance and security assistance feeds into the incentives around corruption. I know you’ve been busy, so I’m not sure if you’ve had a chance to read the recently released SIGAR lessons learned report, but I was wondering specifically what the administration plans on applying going forward on how we’re conducting peace building and development and in all of the countries we’re working in? Because, I think what we saw in Afghanistan was obviously a failure of some of our military strategy, but also that in 20 years we could not do the development and peace building programs that would have made the rest of the engagement more durable. So, how do we plan our foreign engagements going forward with realistic goals, space to course-correct, and how do we make sure we’re actually peace building and helping countries develop and not just doing the same thing that we just saw didn’t work in Afghanistan?
Secretary Blinken: (03:09:20)
Well first, I hoped that I could actually get my senior team in place to work on just that. But, as we were talking about a little bit earlier, the most senior official was unfortunately stuck in the Senate right now. But we do need to… I’ve seen summaries of the report, I have not yet read the whole thing, but I’ve seen the summaries of it. This is going to be an important, very important, document in informing what we do going forward and how we do it better. So again, this is something we welcome working with Congress on in the weeks ahead.
Sarah Jacobs: (03:09:55)
Well, thank you and Mr. Chair, I yield back.
Secretary Blinken: (03:09:59)
Rep. Meeks: (03:09:59)
The gentle lady yields back. I now recognized Representative Young Kim of California, who’s the vice ranking member of the subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, Central Asia and non-proliferation, for five minutes.
Young Kim: (03:10:10)
Thank you, Chairman. Secretary Blinken, I appreciate your patience. It’s been a long day. I’ll get right to the point, and I would appreciate if you could keep your answers brief too. The withdrawal from Afghanistan continues to be a disaster that has been worsened by this administration’s response. And I want to be clear, the issue is not whether we should have withdrawn, but how we withdrew and the complete lack of accountability from this administration.
Young Kim: (03:10:40)
We left hundreds of Americans stranded behind enemy lines, abandoned our Afghan partners who fought by our side, left behind 500 journalists from the US Agency for Global Media in Afghanistan, and left the fates of women and children in the hands of Taliban. Let’s recognize that many State Departments and their employees risk their lives and worked tirelessly over the last months, I want to thank them for their service.
Young Kim: (03:11:15)
However, due to a vacuum in the leadership from this administration the veterans, ordinary citizens, and Congressional offices were forced to step up and in many cases take the lead in helping Americans and allies free the country through independent rescue operations.
Young Kim: (03:11:35)
Unfortunately many of these operations, especially charter flights, have met resistance from the State Department every turn. And one of the Afghan SIVs we worked with, with the Marine veterans to try to evacuate was Sayed Obaidullah Amin. He served heroically and risked his life as a translator for the US forces. Despite having a pending, SIV P-1, P-2 application, he was-
Young Kim: (03:12:03)
…having a pending SIV, P1, P2 application. He was abandoned by this administration during the evacuation process. He and his wife were killed at Abbey Gate during the Kabul Airport attack, fighting to get to safety, leaving there two infant sons, orphans. There are still P1 and P2 applicants and need the State Department’s help. It is too late to save his life, but we still have time to save others. And my office and other congressional offices have been working with a third party to evacuate civilians, people that this administration left behind. These group includes Americans, Afghan partners, and civilians of allied nations. This operation, without the help of the State Department, has secured routes into a neighboring country, and has the approval of officials to stage people there for transport to a safe third country where NGOs stand ready to feed, treat, and process those people. Without basic support from the State Department, this country has made it very clear that everyone in this group will be sent back to Afghanistan to die at the hands of the Taliban.
Young Kim: (03:13:22)
Secretary Blinken. They have started moving as we speak, and the first group has 60 people in it, and 40 of them are children. Your team already has all the necessary information that we provided, but has been repeatedly refused to provide any assistance. I’ve called your office two times and talked to your officials. These people are all doomed if state does not approve and provide transport to a safe third country. Secretary Blinken, I need your commitment now that your department will approve and provide transport for these people. Do I have your word that you will make this happen?
Secretary Blinken: (03:14:07)
We’re committed, Congresswoman, to working with you and to working with every other member on securing the safe transport for people that you’ve identified and that seek to leave Afghanistan. So we will work directly with you on that, but I remind you that we do not control who leaves the country.
Young Kim: (03:14:27)
Secretary Blinken, you don’t understand. If we don’t do anything right now, even for another day, these people are in grave danger. I need your commitment now. Your department, your office have all these information. We just need your commitment right now that you will work with them. [crosstalk 03:14:46]-
Secretary Blinken: (03:14:45)
I have here… It maybe hard to see on the screen. These are all the cases, and I’m so appreciative-
Young Kim: (03:14:51)
From my office? All those-
Secretary Blinken: (03:14:53)
No, from members of this committee that we’re working on. We’ve had 26,000 [crosstalk 03:14:57]-
Young Kim: (03:14:57)
I cannot emphasize that [crosstalk 03:14:58] that are already out of Afghanistan.
Secretary Blinken: (03:15:00)
We responded to 21,000 of them, and we’re working on every single case to the best of our ability. But what we’re trying to do right now is to put in place a system that recognizes people who can leave, making good on commitments that have been made to us and the international community by the Taliban, and to get that system moving. That involves the airport-
Young Kim: (03:15:23)
Thank you. I hope you have the list that my office provided.
Secretary Blinken: (03:15:24)
… in Kabul, it involves land crossings in three different countries, and it involves working with different groups and organizations so that we can get this going and get this moving. And we’re committed to doing that wherever we possibly can.
Chairman Meeks: (03:15:38)
Gentlelady’s time has expired. I now recognize Representative Kathy Manning of North Carolina, who’s the vice chair of the Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism for five minutes.
Rep. Manning: (03:15:49)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Mr. Secretary, for your patience and for your service on behalf of our country and the American people. Mr. Secretary, prior to this hearing, I read the agreement reached between the Taliban and the Trump administration, and I was shocked. Basically, President Trump agreed to withdraw all troops, all coalition partners, all civilian personnel by May 1st. He agreed to release 5,000 prisoners to work with the UN, to lift sanctions against the Taliban, to seek economic cooperation for the reconstruction of Afghanistan, and to refrain from the threat or use of force against Afghanistan or intervene in its domestic affairs.
Rep. Manning: (03:16:32)
In exchange, the Taliban agreed to release up to 1,000 prisoners. It agreed not to allow its members to attack our personnel on the way out, and not to allow Afghanistan to be a base for the training or fostering of terrorists against the US in the future. I did not see any demand for the protection of Afghan women and girls. I did not see any guarantees that the Taliban will prosecute anyone who commits atrocities against women or girls, or Afghan men for that matter. I did not see any commitment by the Taliban to prosecute people who take steps to attack the United States or any of our citizens. The Trump administration didn’t leave you with much to work with, did they?
Secretary Blinken: (03:17:20)
Rep. Manning: (03:17:22)
Nevertheless, Mr. Secretary, you have stated a commitment to the safety and wellbeing of Afghan women and girls, and I’m proud that this committee passed a bipartisan resolution that I authored to support these women at risk. Unfortunately, the Taliban recently announced that they have abolished the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, replacing it with a Ministry for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Certainly, this is a very worrisome sign, as is the lack of any women in the Taliban’s interim government. And Representative Spanberger has detailed videos and news reports of atrocities that are already taking place. Do you plan to assemble an international coalition to hold the Taliban accountable for the treatment of women and girls in Afghanistan? And can you tell us how you plan to monitor their safety? And how can the coalition be effective in ensuring those protections?
Secretary Blinken: (03:18:22)
Thank you, Congresswoman. And in short, the answer is yes, and in fact, we’ve already been doing that. We put together a group of leading countries. I led a meeting with about 22 of them, as well as NATO, the European Union, and the United Nations on the expectations of the international community when it comes to the Taliban-led government’s conduct to include upholding the rights of women and girls and minorities. And so there’s a clear understanding. It’s also enshrined in the UN Security Council resolution that we initiated and got passed, and that has some real meaning to it beyond the fact that it’s a resolution, because there are significant UN sanctions on the Taliban.
Secretary Blinken: (03:19:06)
There are travel bans and other things that if the Taliban is in violation of this UN Security Council resolution, to the extent it wants to see those sanctions lifted or travel bans lifted, that’s not going to happen. There are many other points of influence and leverage. And overall, we’ve made very clear… Not just us, countries around the world, including many leading countries, have made very clear that the Taliban’s conduct will dictate whether they get any support or any legitimacy whatsoever from the international community. And that conduct goes among other things critically to how it treats women and girls.
Rep. Manning: (03:19:45)
Secretary, this committee met over Zoom with brave and highly-intelligent Afghan women who told us they were determined to stay in Afghanistan and fight for the soul of their country. These extraordinary women who held important professional, educational, and governmental positions in Afghanistan, should they find themselves targeted by the Taliban? Will we have their backs? Will our country be willing to help these women and their families escape to safety?
Secretary Blinken: (03:20:12)
We would do everything within our means to have their backs, and so would many other countries around the world with whom we’re working. And we look forward also to working with you in Congress to make sure that we have every possible tool to support these women.
Rep. Manning: (03:20:28)
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I know my time is almost up, so I just want to encourage you to please do everything you can to speed up the SIV processing, and to provide assistance to those whose documents, whose passports, documents, applications were destroyed in the embassy in the tumult of the evacuation. And again, thank you for your service.
Secretary Blinken: (03:20:50)
Chairman Meeks: (03:20:51)
Now recognize Representative Jim Costa of California for five minutes.
Rep. Costa: (03:20:56)
Very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, Mr. Secretary, for staying the entire length of time so that all of us could answer our questions, and your service to our country. And listening to the hearing today, I’m reminded that the old adage that we try in America to limit politics at the water’s edge. With all the finger pointing that’s been taking place, this may be a thing of the past. But I’d like to focus on the current situation with the P2 process and P1s. We’ve been trying to work with the State Department, and we’ve frankly been frustrated. What’s the extent that the administration’s exploring options for in-country or virtual processing for P2 and humanitarian patrol applicants?
Secretary Blinken: (03:21:50)
We’re looking at all of that, Congressman, and I would very much appreciate working with you, working with your office, and if that’s not happening, we’ll make sure that we fix it. But we’re looking at everything to figure out how can we, whether it’s an SIV or whether it’s a P1 or P2, streamline expedite consistent, of course, with our security.
Rep. Costa: (03:22:10)
Like a lot of my colleagues, I have a lot of constituents, and we have a hospital that a NGO group here in California Valley has sponsored for women and children over the last 13 years. 75% of the physicians and nurses are women. Excuse me, 40% of them are women and children. They’re in great fear. They’re minorities in the country, and they have been trying to find a way out. Are you considering fast-tracking the P2 applicants? And what’s the process State Department is looking at scaling up on the high volume of these applicants, and what sort of infrastructure? I mean, it’s not equipped to handle… [inaudible 03:22:51], will you expedite any humanitarian parole petitions? And how long is that process for state to finish?
Secretary Blinken: (03:23:06)
Yeah. We’re looking at all of that. I want to come back to you and come back to Congress on some of the ideas that we have for doing that, as well as looking at what resources would be needed to do that, because I think we’re going to need more support. And this goes across the SIV program to P1, P2.
Rep. Costa: (03:23:23)
Who would be the key person that our office would work with with you folks at State?
Secretary Blinken: (03:23:28)
I’m going to have the head of legislative affairs in the first instance, her office follow-up with you and your office, and we can take it from there.
Rep. Costa: (03:23:35)
It’s been very frustrating. And there were about almost 200 individuals with their families that are kind of in just great frustration and fear of their lives, frankly, and not withstanding all the good work that they’ve done. And so I’m just reminded the fact that it seems like what the State Department, maybe it’s not been able to do… And I know you’ve made a great effort, humanitarian effort in the evacuation. But I’m working with other folks, and it seems like a modern underground railroad of some kind is taking place, with a lot of third parties trying to get people by any means to the Uzbekistan border or Tajikistan. I mean, how do you see that continuing? And with great risk, I might add.
Secretary Blinken: (03:24:26)
Yeah, look. I think that there are people who are doing extraordinary things to try to help get people get out of Afghanistan who want to leave, whether it is NGOs, individuals, veterans groups, and others, wherever possible. We want to make sure that we’re coordinated. We want to make sure that we’re doing whatever we can to support these efforts. But we’re also working, Congressman, to make sure to the best of our ability that we have in place an overall process and overall understanding that will allow people to leave openly and freely with the necessary documents. That would be the best way to do this.
Rep. Costa: (03:25:06)
Right, but you’re processing these P2 applicants, and getting some understanding by the Taliban is obviously key to that happening.
Secretary Blinken: (03:25:12)
Rep. Costa: (03:25:14)
And so let me just close on this, on the bigger picture at 20,000 feet. And you’ve been asked this question, and please get back to us [inaudible 03:25:21] these great people who are in great fear of their lives. Last night, I don’t know if you saw it, but CNN did a great presentation of two hours of 20 years of Afghanistan. Was it worth it under four different administrations? And I remember meeting with [Maliki 03:25:40] the third time in 2010, and I made the same comment that was made earlier. How do you expect to create democratic institutions where corruption in this part of the world is endemic, it’s not a way of life? And he gave me a BS answer. But what’s the lessons to learn here that you’ve gotten? And you can’t answer that in 10 seconds, but…
Secretary Blinken: (03:25:58)
Well, I think one of them is exactly when you just cited, Congressman, which is when you’ve got corruption corroding everything that you’re trying to do, it makes it a lot harder, if not impossible. That’s certainly something we need to follow-up on.
Rep. Costa: (03:26:12)
Look forward to working with you. Thank you.
Secretary Blinken: (03:26:13)
Chairman Meeks: (03:26:15)
I now recognize Representative Juan Vargas of California, who’s the vice chair of the Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security, Migration and International Economic Policy, for five minutes.
Rep. Vargas: (03:26:27)
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and I want to thank Secretary. Secretary, I appreciate the words that you said, that you were working with the veterans groups in particular. We stood up… Not we, the veterans stood up an incredible group here in San Diego, and did heroic work as they did when they were serving. I hope you can continue to work with them and the State Department as a whole. They know their interpreters. They know the people that help them, and again, they did magnificent work, obviously as soldiers, airmen, Marines, and they’re doing magnificent work now as citizens, trying to help those that helped us.
Secretary Blinken: (03:27:07)
[crosstalk 03:27:07]. Yes, thank you for underscoring that. I very much agree, and we’re doing everything we can to work closely with them. As I mentioned, I met with about 75 veterans groups about 10 days ago, and our leadership has been engaged with them across the board, as well as the Pentagon and others, so thank you.
Rep. Vargas: (03:27:30)
Well, good. The one thing that we’ve kind of talked around a little bit but haven’t really hit the square on is the issue of intelligence. And obviously this is not a classified briefing, but you did bring up the notion that… Well, the briefing that stated that we thought that it would be two years, potentially. I think you said 18 months to two years before a collapse, and then you said the shortest time was maybe by the end of this year. How many months would that have been? So what is the shortest period?
Secretary Blinken: (03:28:00)
That, I believe, was an assessment that was made in July, so four or five months, six months.
Rep. Vargas: (03:28:09)
I have to say, I read all the classified information, I went to all the briefings. I don’t remember anything shorter than that.
Secretary Blinken: (03:28:17)
I don’t either, but look, I want to be clear and be fair. There’re going to be individuals’ voices who may point to something different. As you know, you try to do this with worst case scenarios as well as best case scenarios and other scenarios, and you have to look across the board at all of this. And the question is, where does the kind of weight of it land? And that’s what I was referring to.
Rep. Vargas: (03:28:42)
Well, what I remember and how I remember this is all the information that I read, and obviously some we can’t discuss in this setting, but nobody said that they would collapse in a month. Nobody [crosstalk 03:28:55] collapse in two months. There were some people that were saying that it might go quicker than six months, but this was a real failure of intelligence, and my concern is this, that I believe that we could have that same failure of intelligence with Iran and its nuclear program. Again, I don’t think that we’re looking at this wide-eyed and open-minded. I think that Iran… We’re going to wake up one of these mornings and find out that our intelligence is very wrong there. I think we have a very difficult time understanding these religious fanatics and what they would do to either liberate their country, as they see it, or to create the weapon of choice as they see it.
Rep. Vargas: (03:29:40)
I don’t think we have good intelligence on that, and I don’t think we understand what they would be willing to do, and it very much concerns me. We can look at blame… And certainly, I agree with Mr. Malinowski. I was very upset when President Trump announced that he had secretly invited the Taliban to come to Camp David, and then the smiling pictures that we saw… And I hope you don’t do this, the smiling pictures that we saw with Pompeo and the Taliban, saying that he looked into their eyes and he could see that they were telling the truth and all that kind of crap. I hope you don’t do that. I hope you have wide eyes open, and not those starry eyes of Mr. Pompeo looking into the eyes of Taliban and saying, “Oh, yes, they’re going to be good boys this time.” They’re not. But again, I think our intelligence is lacking, and I don’t know how we can correct that.
Secretary Blinken: (03:30:28)
Let me just say, this is… Look, this is a collective responsibility. And I think all of us, whether it’s the intelligence community, whether it’s the military, whether it’s the State Department, need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to provide the best possible assessments and feeding all of the information in, and coming to conclusions. So I think this is a collective responsibility, and that’s very important. Iran, there’s lots that goes into that, different things, but when it comes to what we put in place through the agreement that’s now no longer being adhered to, the JCPOA, we actually had on-the-ground eyes-on intelligence inspections monitoring unlike any we’ve ever had, and that’s different than assessing someone’s intent.
Rep. Vargas: (03:31:10)
Again, my time is almost up. I do thank you for all the work that you’ve done, but again, I do think we got it all wrong with our intelligence, and I think we’re going to get it all wrong with Iran. I think we’re going to pay a big price. But again, I thank you for your hard work. I appreciate it. I yield back.
Chairman Meeks: (03:31:26)
I now recognize Representative Brad Schneider of Illinois for five minutes.
Rep. Schneider: (03:31:32)
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you for hosting this critically-important hearing. And before I go any further, I want to remember and honor the service and sacrifices of our military, as well as our diplomats, others who have served our nation in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. As you, Chairman Meeks, noted at the top of this hearing, 800,000 people have served in our military operations in Afghanistan. 2,461 US personnel have given their life, including, tragically, 11 Marines, one army soldier, and one member of the Navy, who died at Hamid Karzai International Airport last month. I just want to acknowledge the tremendous effort expended last month to coordinate the evacuation of more than 124,000 people from Afghanistan. Nevertheless, I know we are all concerned to know that Americans and Afghani allies remained in Afghanistan after our last troops left on August 31st.
Rep. Schneider: (03:32:26)
Mr. Secretary, as you have previously affirmed, our nation remains committed to help any American, as well as citizens of allied nations and Afghans wanting to leave. I know this body is counting on your commitment there, and please know that we are prepared to assist in any way. Mr. Secretary, I also want to thank you for staying for a very long hearing to allow all of us to have a chance to speak and ask questions. We have covered a lot of ground today, some of it addressing very difficult issues. Let’s be clear, the current situation in Afghanistan and the tragic events of this August were the consequence of policies taking place over 20 years, not the policies or even the events of the previous 20 weeks or even 20 months. I can just touch on some of those. Going back to the very beginning, it was noted earlier in December 2001, less than three months after the 9/11 attacks, the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar reportedly offered to recognize the new government and surrender their arms, but US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rejected that.
Rep. Schneider: (03:33:32)
We can go on into 2010, when we surged to 100,000 troops, but in that, President Obama said that he would begin withdrawing those troops within 18 months, which he did. By 2010, the Obama administration came to assess that there was no political or no military solution, and began low-level negotiations with the Taliban in 2010. Then, jump ahead to last year in 2020, when the US signed an agreement with the Taliban after Donald Trump’s administration initiated the first high-level direct US talks with the Taliban. In November of last year, President Trump ordered the drawdown of our troops. On January 15th of 2021, the number of US forces was at 2,500 troops, the lowest level since 2001.
Rep. Schneider: (03:34:24)
And on April 14th of this year, President Biden announced that though he would not have negotiated the deal that the previous administration did with the Taliban, he would follow through. And we know Kabul fell on August 14th, and the last of the troops left on August 31st. Mr. Secretary, I’d like to focus a little bit on the agreement that was struck in 2020. According to the agreement, the Taliban was supposed to prevent terrorists from threatening the US and our allies, which of course was a farce given the attack that we saw take place over the course of many months. My question is under that agreement, how many prisoners were released as a condition of the negotiations with the Taliban?
Secretary Blinken: (03:35:05)
The previous administration prevailed upon the Afghan government to release about 5,000 prisoners. The Taliban released about 1,000 prisoners.
Rep. Schneider: (03:35:14)
Did any of these prisoners play a leadership role in the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan?
Secretary Blinken: (03:35:20)
It appears to be the case that some of them played a significant role in leading military operations in various parts of the country, yes.
Rep. Schneider: (03:35:32)
So jumping forward from the agreement, as you said, it left an agenda without a plan, or the previous administration left an agenda without a plan. Based on the 2020 agreement, what would have been the implications of keeping US troops in Afghanistan beyond the deadline set?
Secretary Blinken: (03:35:51)
The implications were very clear, Congressman. Had the president not made good on the agreement reached by the previous administration, the attacks on our forces and partner forces would have resumed, and the offensive to take over Afghanistan’s cities would have commenced. And the result of that would have been that in order to protect ourselves and to prevent the takeover of the country, we would have had to have reintroduced a substantial number of forces into Afghanistan, in effect restarting and re-upping the war, not ending it.
Rep. Schneider: (03:36:23)
So with the last couple of seconds, just to quickly summarize, how do we stay beyond the deadline? We would have had more troops than the 2,500 that started at the beginning of this year. Those troops would have been at risk and engaged in active conflict with the Taliban, likely resulting in casualties to American forces, cost of both blood and treasure for our country. Is that a fair statement?
Secretary Blinken: (03:36:47)
Rep. Schneider: (03:36:49)
My time has expired, but again, I just implore you, we must do everything we can to bring every American home that wants to come home. All of those special immigrant visas applicants seeking to [crosstalk 03:37:02]-
Chairman Meeks: (03:37:02)
Gentleman’s time has expired.
Rep. Schneider: (03:37:04)
[crosstalk 03:37:04]. Anything we can do to help you, please let us know.
Secretary Blinken: (03:37:07)
Chairman Meeks: (03:37:08)
Gentleman’s time has expired. Member questions are now concluded. I want to first thank Secretary Blinken for his testimony, his patience, and his time here today. He has been assessable to this committee, and we look forward to continuing the relationship that we have as we utilize our oversight responsibilities. And as I close, I think it is important to recognize that our actions have consequences. And many times, these actions are not easily reversible. The Trump administration’s excluding the Ghani government, while legitimizing the Taliban through direct negotiations, fundamentally altered the power of the country. The deal the Trump administration struck with the Taliban forced the Afghan government to release 5,000 prisoners. It was a deal they failed to obtain a commitment for a ceasefire, or a commitment to not attack the Afghan government, and that failed to obtain a commitment from the Taliban to separate from Al-Qaeda.
Chairman Meeks: (03:38:24)
In exchange, the Trump administration agreed to withdraw all of our troops to include all non-diplomatic personnel by May 2021. There was a consequence to this agreement, and consequences of the policy decisions that were made throughout the 20 years our military was deployed in Afghanistan. When I first became chair of this committee, I said that the American foreign policy is in desperate need of humility, and that includes understanding the limits of US military intervention. And at the start of this hearing, I cited how many Americans were killed over 20 years of war in Afghanistan. But that alone doesn’t capture all the full human cost. Those numbers don’t capture the family members and friends forever changed by this conflict. It doesn’t capture the suffering endured by Afghan civilians, trapped in the middle of a civil war. The costs of war are immeasurable, and not just the human toll.
Chairman Meeks: (03:39:29)
Last year alone, it resulted in 17 veteran suicides a day on average. We could not ask our service members to fight overseas without a clear, winnable objective. As members of Congress, this is our responsibility. In the weeks and months to come, we will continue our oversight of Afghanistan, and take a sober look on how we got here for over 20 years of war, and how we can prevent making the same mistakes. I also would be remiss if I didn’t say thank you after 20 years to all of our military and all of DOD.
Chairman Meeks: (03:40:18)
Thank you to the State Department and all of our diplomats there. Thank you to USAID, USAGM, the Department of Homeland Security, the DEA, the CIA, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Justice, the Department of Commerce, and of course, our Afghan allies who stood side by side with us for 20 years. I want to thank each and every one of them. This is not the end. We will conduct, as I’ve stated earlier, continue our oversight responsibilities, bringing in individuals from the past administrations, as we completely oversee and look back and forward to what has been and should be and will be in the future. And with that, this hearing is adjourned.