Austin, Blinken to Testify Before Private Senate Panel About Afghanistan Pullout Disaster
22:01 GMT 05.01.2022 (Updated: 13:27 GMT 06.08.2022)
© REUTERS / JONATHAN ERNSTU.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff U.S. Army General Mark Milley depart after participating in a briefing on Afghanistan for the members of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., U.S. August 24, 2021
© REUTERS / JONATHAN ERNST
Two top Biden administration officials are set to testify in private before a Senate panel next week as lawmakers seek additional answers about the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer.
The Senate’s Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees have posted an event scheduled for 10 am on January 11 at which Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken will testify. The hearing is closed and will not be webcast, and no further details have been released about the event.
The two men, along with several other leading members of the administration and Pentagon, have already testified before the two Senate committees once, in the weeks after the US completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 31, 2021. Austin was excoriated for a no-show at a September 14 panel that Blinken also testified at, but appeared two weeks later at yet another hearing with the top diplomat.
Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) indicated at the time that he was willing to compel Austin to testify about the “fatally flawed” withdrawal, saying that “a full accounting of the US response to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon - especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the U.S. trained and funded Afghan military.”
“The fact that the Afghan army we and our partners trained simply melted away, in many cases without firing a shot, took us all by surprise,” Austin told the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 28. “It would be dishonest to claim otherwise.”
“We need to consider some uncomfortable truths: that we did not fully comprehend the depth of corruption and poor leadership in their senior ranks, we didn’t grasp the damaging effect of frequent and unexplained rotations by [Afghan] President Ghani of his commanders, we did not anticipate the snowball effect caused by the deals that the Taliban* commanders struck with local leaders,” Austin also said.
However, Austin recently tested positive for COVID-19, and the 68-year-old former Army general has been experiencing “mild symptoms.” His quarantine period ends on Friday, according to new US Center for Disease Control and Prevention rules, although he has been participating in virtual meetings while working from home, as well.
‘We’re Going to Have to Go Back’
The US left Afghanistan after negotiating a ceasefire with the Taliban in February 2020 that omitted the US-backed government in Kabul. An anticipated separate ceasefire between the Taliban and Afghan government never materialized, though, and in May 2021 the Taliban launched a new offensive that quickly conquered much of the Central Asian state. By the end of July, experts in Washington expected the Kabul government might not last the year, but in fact it didn’t even last the month, folding just two weeks later when the Taliban reached the capital’s outskirts.
© AP Photo / Shekib RahmaniСамолет C-17 в аэропорту Кабула
Самолет C-17 в аэропорту Кабула
© AP Photo / Shekib Rahmani
Those two weeks were a chaotic, deadly mess, as thousands crowded outside Kabul’s main airport looking for a chance to escape Taliban rule. Daesh-Khorasan** staged a deadly terrorist attack on the crowd, killing at least 180 civilians and 13 US service members. Further tragedy followed, when a US drone strike against what was claimed to be another Daesh carbomber instead struck a vehicle driven by an employee of a US non-governmental organization (NGO), killing him and nine members of his family, including children as young as two.
The Pentagon said last month that those responsible for the strike would face no reprimand for their actions.
The final US transport aircraft departed at the end of the month, carrying not just US military equipment and soldiers, but 79,000 civilians as well, many of whom had been collaborators with the 20-year-long US occupation.
Austin and Blinken will likely be further grilled about these many failings, as well as the claim that al-Qaeda***, the terrorist group whose attacks in New York and Virginia on September 11, 2001, had set the stage for the US invasion a month later, was permanently weakened in Afghanistan. If al-Qaeda did come back, the US would be able to manage the problem with “over-the-horizon capability” like drone strikes, US President Joe Biden said in August.
“We’re going to have to go back in to get ISIS [Daesh]. We’re probably going to have to go back in when al-Qaeda resurrects itself, as they will, with this Taliban,” former CIA director and Pentagon chief Leon Panetta told CNN on August 28, two days before the withdrawal was complete.
* The Taliban is an organization under United Nations sanctions for terrorist activities.
** Daesh (ISIL/ISIS/Islamic State) is a terrorist group banned in Russia and many other countries.
*** Al-Qaeda is a terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.