U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has agreed to testify next week before a congressional panel examining the country’s chaotic military withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of its two-decade war, the longest in U.S. history.
Opposition Republican lawmakers and some Democratic colleagues of President Joe Biden have attacked his handling of the withdrawal of troops, American citizens and thousands of Afghans who worked for U.S. forces as interpreters and advisers during the war.
The criticism was especially pronounced after 13 U.S. service members died in a suicide bomb attack at the Kabul airport in the waning days of the withdrawal. Islamic State-Khorasan, an Afghan offshoot of the terrorist group operating in the Middle East, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Blinken agreed to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next Tuesday, although other congressional committees are likely to investigate the withdrawal as well.
The formal withdrawal ended more than a week ago, but about 100 Americans remain in Afghanistan, with U.S. officials vowing to help them get out if they want to leave. Thousands of Afghans are also looking to move to the United States or other countries to escape life under Taliban insurgents who took control of the country.
National polls of U.S. voters show wide support for Biden’s decision to end what he has called a “forever war” in Afghanistan, but not the way the withdrawal unfolded.
Blinken, the top U.S. diplomat, is likely to face tough questions about why the U.S. did not start evacuating American citizens sooner, especially since Biden announced his intention in April to honor former president Donald Trump’s agreement with the Taliban to end the war and withdraw American forces.
Lawmakers have also attacked U.S. intelligence-gathering for failing to forecast the rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and the collapse of the Afghan government, with President Ashraf Ghani suddenly fleeing to political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.
Republicans say they want to focus their questioning on Biden’s performance in the final weeks and days of the war, while Democrats are hoping to examine the whole of the American war effort that was conducted under four presidents — Republicans George W. Bush and Trump, and Democrats Barack Obama and Biden.
Bush launched the war in late 2001 to eradicate al-Qaida terrorist training grounds where the September 11 attacks against the U.S. were spawned. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the U.S in attacks using hijacked U.S. passenger airliners. The 20th anniversary of the attacks is on Saturday.
Biden has called the withdrawal an “extraordinary success” and defended the decision to end the U.S. war in Afghanistan, saying he would not pass on responsibility for managing U.S. military involvement there to a fifth U.S. leader.