WASHINGTON — House Republicans hammered Secretary of State Antony Blinken Thursday over the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, threatening to subpoena a letter that highlighted internal dissent over the episode.
Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called the rushed exit from Afghanistan in 2021 a “debacle” and faulted the Biden administration for failing to stop an attack at Kabul airport’s Abbey Gate that killed 13 U.S. service members and 170 Afghans, despite intelligence that suggested an attack was looming.
McCaul said at a hearing with Blinken that the top U.S. diplomat has until March 27 to turn over a classified letter known as a dissent cable, dating from before the withdrawal, that highlighted internal concern among State Department staff about a pending takeover by the Taliban and the need for evacuation.
“The American people need to see this,” McCaul said of the cable, whose contents have never been made public but were widely reported at the time. “We need to know what their dissent was. Why were they objecting to your policy in the failed withdrawal from Afghanistan?”
Blinken pledged to provide information from the letter but declined to promise to release the whole thing, saying the so-called dissent channel is a key way for him to hear criticism from the department’s rank-and-file. “It is vital to me that we preserve the integrity of that process,” he said.
The American military led a haphazard evacuation — captured by infamous video footage of Afghans falling from a U.S. transport plane — that left thousands who had helped the U.S. military behind in the war-ravaged country. Appearing before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday, Blinken said retrospective reports on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will be made available to Congress “within the next few weeks.”
Aside from the debate over the cable, the hearing repeatedly devolved into finger-pointing by lawmakers, with Republicans arguing that President Joe Biden was to blame for the chaos of the evacuation and Democrats contending that former President Donald Trump was at fault because he oversaw the agreement with the Taliban that preceded the withdrawal.
In one exchange with Blinken, Democrat Gerry Connolly of Virginia said many of the geopolitical challenges his Republican opponents were blaming on the Biden administration — from Iran to the Afghan withdrawal — were tied to Trump.
“It’s ain’t about the Biden policies, it’s about the previous administration that left a mess and that cost lives because of the decisions made or not made with respect to relations across the board,” he said at the close of an exchange with Blinken.
At a simultaneous hearing before a House Appropriations panel, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, resisted putting blame for the chaotic withdrawal on Trump or Biden.
“What happened in Afghanistan didn’t happen in the last 19 days or even in the last 19 months,” Milley said. “That was a 20-year war. There were decisions made all along the way which culminated in what the outcome was.” He said “we’re at the beginning of that lessons-learned process, not at the end.”
(Roxana Tiron contributed to this report.)