During a congressional hearing on Monday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken pointed out that President Joe Biden inherited a Trump deal with the Taliban that stipulated that all US troops would leave Afghanistan by May of This year.
The US withdrawal in late August, shortly after the Taliban took control of the country, turned into a crisis for Biden, who was widely condemned by Republicans and media commentators, as well as calls for upon his resignation.
Now, the president’s supporters in Congress are mounting a defense focused on the previous administration’s policy towards the Taliban.
While Republicans blasted Blinken and the current administration during Monday’s hearing, Democratic lawmakers focused their questions and remarks on Trump’s talks with the Taliban.
“We inherited a delay [for withdrawal]; we didn’t inherit a plan, ”Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC). Congressman Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California, replied, “So no plan at all; it’s amazing that it wasn’t much, much worse.
In February 2020, the Trump administration signed an agreement with the Taliban that would ensure the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Afghanistan and ensure that “Afghan soil will not be used against the security of the United States and its allies” .
The deal also led to the release of 5,000 Taliban detainees as part of a prisoner swap with the US-backed Afghan government, which did not take part in the talks that led to the deal. .
Biden, who took office in January, then extended the withdrawal deadline to the end of August.
After the Taliban entered Kabul last month, US forces – still in control of the capital’s airport – launched an evacuation operation to airlift US citizens, third country nationals and Afghan allies out of the country.
The evacuations were marred by scenes of chaos and a suicide bombing that killed 175 people, including 13 American soldiers.
“When President Biden took office in January, he inherited an agreement his predecessor had made with the Taliban to withdraw all remaining US troops by May 1 of this year,” Blinken told the HFAC Monday.
“As part of this deal, the previous administration pressured the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, including some senior war commanders. During that time, it reduced our own force presence to 2,500 troops. “
Blinken added that Biden had no choice but to finalize the withdrawal or escalate the war and risk attacks on US forces.
But Republicans have been furious with the US president, accusing him of abandoning Washington’s allies and allowing Afghanistan to become a “haven for terrorists.”
“The administration’s failed withdrawal from Afghanistan may well be the worst foreign affairs disaster in American history,” Republican Steve Chabot told Blinken on Monday. “You’ve basically ceded this country and its people to the good graces of the Taliban, and the Taliban don’t have good graces. “
Chris Smith, another Republican, called on Blinken to step down, while his colleague Brian Mast accused the administration of manipulating intelligence about the prospect of a Taliban takeover after the US withdrawal.
“We don’t need to hear lies,” said Mast, a representative from Florida, as Gregory Meeks, the Democratic chairman of the HFAC, reminded Mast his time has expired.
In his own remarks, Meeks noted Republicans’ criticism of the pullout, but also pointed to the 2020 deal brokered by Trump and his then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
“I ask where was this protest when the Trump administration sidelined the Afghan government in order to strike a deal with the Taliban?” Meeks asked. “And where was that protest when President Trump and Secretary Pompeo agreed to withdraw all troops by May 2021? ”