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Congress Investigates US Withdrawal from Afghanistan

INTERNATIONAL: On Sunday, Prime Minister Hun Sen described the recent US evacuation from Kabul as a “bitter reminder” of the events of April 1975 when the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh. The Prime Minister was speaking at Think Tank 2022, hosted by the Universal Peace Foundation.

The US evacuation has now prompted a Congressional investigation into the country’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, amid calls for the resignation of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He beat back criticism of the withdrawal on Monday during a testy congressional hearing. He blamed former President Donald Trump for negotiating the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, but Republican lawmakers were having none of it.

The House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, getting down to a hearing planned ever since the Taliban took back control of Afghanistan. Republicans wasted no time in grilling Secretary of State Antony Blinken, with congressman Scott Perry asking him where he was:

BLINKEN: “Um, I’m at the State Department”

PERRY: "Oh, couldn't be bothered to come down here and see Congress. Alright, that's great."

BLINKEN: "Excuse me sir, my understanding is that the House is not in session, and that's why the session has been…"

PERRY: "[over some crosstalk] I'm right here Secretary, so's the Chairman, so's the ranking member. We're here. Mr. Chairman, reclaiming my time. Did State at any point in the evacuation process block American citizens from leaving Afghanistan."

BLINKEN: "No, we did not."

PERRY: "None? Your testimony before Congress is, is that State didn't block any American citizens leaving Afghanistan."

BLINKEN: "To the contrary, my officers, men and women, ran into the building, from around the world to help… [crosstalk]"

PERRY: "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 didn't block any American citizens?"

BLINKEN: "No, we did not block any… [crosstalk] they were there to help Americans get out."

PERRY: "How many Afghans not meeting the qualifications of SIV (Special Immigrant Visas) 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."

BLINKEN: "We're in the process of going through…"

PERRY: "No, no, no [crosstalk] How many? How many? How many did you bring? You were just at Dulles, how many did you bring?"

BLINKEN: "We will have, by the end of the month we will have brought a total of approximately 60,000."

PERRY: "That have not [crosstalk] met the SIV process. Standard."

BLINKEN: "Some of those will be, some of those will have been through the SIV process. All of them, regardless of SIV status, will have gone through rigorous security checks."

PERRY: "[crosstalk] It would be nice if we, it'd be nice if that was done before we brought these people to the United States of America."}

SIV refers to the US’ Special Immigration Visa for Afghans.

There was another blasting of Blinken a few moments later from Republican Brian Mast of Florida:

“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, quote, most advanced military weaponry. Why some would not speak out against that. 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."

Members of Congress went onto ask a long list of questions about the rapid collapse of the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the Biden administration's scramble to evacuate 124,000 people, including Americans and Afghans who’d worked with them. The congressional hearing was prompted by scenes like one captured on camera at Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport on 16 August. Shocking eyewitness video filmed desperate civilians attempting to board a U.S. Air Force plane as it prepared for take-off. Moments later, those unable to get inside the plane could be seen falling from the sky. One of them was an 18-year-old member of the Afghan National Football team.

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