Secretary of State Antony Blinken told members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday that, “as of the end of last week, we had about 100 American citizens in Afghanistan who told us that they wish to leave the country.”
Blinken emphasized that this number reflects “a snapshot,” adding, “This is a picture that will continue to change over time.” As for the number of U.S. green card holders, or legal permanent residents, who remain in Afghanistan, Blinken said that although this was “something that we don’t track directly,” an estimated “several thousand” U.S. green card holders remain in the country.
The hearing was the first of two this week in which the secretary of state is scheduled to testify on the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan last month, which has been the subject of intense criticism from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Appearing remotely via video conference, Blinken defended the Biden administration’s handling of the withdrawal and, in particular, the State Department’s role in the chaotic effort to evacuate American citizens and at-risk Afghans from the country after the swift takeover of the Taliban. Responding to accusations that the State Department failed to begin evacuations in time, ultimately leaving Americans and Afghan allies behind, Blinken echoed the argument made by President Biden that the deal the Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban last year left few options on when to pull American troops out of Afghanistan. Subsequently, he added, the Afghan government and security forces collapsed faster than anyone had anticipated.
“Even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained,” Blinken said in his prepared remarks.
Committee members of both parties pressed Blinken on what the State Department is doing to ensure that Americans and other Afghan allies left behind in Afghanistan can get out of the country, and expressed concern about whether the Taliban’s interim government can be trusted. Republicans were particularly forceful in their criticism. Texas Rep. Michael McCaul, the ranking Republican on the committee, called the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan an “unmitigated disaster of epic proportions,” while Reps. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., and Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., called on Blinken to resign.
Some Democrats, including New York Rep. Gregory Meeks, the committee chairman, sought to give context to the chaos that unfolded during the U.S. military’s final weeks in Afghanistan, pointing to the Trump administration’s negotiations with the Taliban, as well as the country’s long history of instability. Still, Meeks acknowledged there were problems with the Biden administration's approach.
“Could things have been done differently?” said Meeks. “Absolutely."
In his prepared opening remarks, Blinken said that the State Department is in “in constant contact with American citizens still in Afghanistan who have told us they wish to leave,” and that since the end of the military evacuation operation two weeks ago, efforts to get Americans and at-risk allies out of the country have continued.
Blinken noted that two Qatar Airways charter flights left Kabul last week carrying U.S. citizens and others.
“In addition to those flights,” he said, “six American citizens and 11 permanent residents of the United States have also left Afghanistan via an overland route, with our help.”
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