Secretary of State Antony Blinken set to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal

Blinken is expected to face tough questions from both sides of the aisle on the withdrawal and ongoing efforts to evacuate Americans.

By Dareh Gregorian and Abigail Williams | NBC News |

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will defend the Biden administration’s handling of Afghanistan before a House committee Monday afternoon, answering questions under oath for the first time since U.S. forces’ chaotic withdrawal.

Blinken is expected to face tough questions from both sides of the political aisle on the U.S. withdrawal and the ongoing efforts to evacuate Americans in a three-hour hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Blinken has said the end of the almost 20-year war marked a “new chapter of America’s engagement with Afghanistan,” one “we will lead with our diplomacy.”

In his prepared opening statement that was released ahead of his appearance, Blinken will say that the Trump administration’s deal with the Taliban had left President Joe Biden with two options – “ending the war or escalating it.”

“Had he not followed through on his predecessor’s commitment, attacks on our forces and those of our allies would have resumed and the Taliban’s nationwide assault on Afghanistan’s major cities would have commenced,” Blinken plans to say.

He also will point a finger at Congress for the slow pace of getting Afghans with Special Immigrant Visas out of the country, noting lawmakers created a complicated 14-step process for the visas, and that the Trump administration had left a backlog of 17,000 applicants.

“Within two weeks of taking office, we restarted the SIV interview process in Kabul. On February 4th, one of the first executive orders issued by President Biden directed us to immediately review the SIV program to identify causes of undue delay and find ways to process SIV applications more quickly,” the prepared remarks say. He will also say that efforts to get Americans and allies out of Afghanistan have been moving forward and will continue until every American citizen who wants to leave is out.

Ahead of the hearing, Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., told Fox News he plans to press Blinken on why the Biden administration was caught flat-footed by the swift collapse of the Afghan government.

“We knew that we saw all this coming. We have some of the best intelligence capabilities in the world,” Steube said. “They just stood by and watched the Taliban take over Afghanistan.”

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