Live Updates: Antony Blinken Faces Second Showdown with Congress Over Afghanistan Withdrawal

Live Updates

Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan once again during a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

While there were mixed characterizations about the outcome of the Afghanistan operation, both Democratic and Republican senators looked for answers about intelligence reports, pull-out deadlines and accountability.

Committee Chairman Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) called the Afghan operation "fatally flawed" and an "interagency failure." He added that Congress has been lied to by "successive administration" about the durability of the Afghan security and government forces.

Blinken gave his testimony in person Tuesday, after facing criticism for appearing via a video conference feed during Monday's hearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The Secretary faced questions about the number of American citizens and Afghan SIV applicants remaining in Afghanistan and the security clearings conduction during evacuee processing.

Republican Senators raised concerns that the State Department did not see intelligence that suggested the Afghan government would collapse more rapidly than initially anticipated.

"It's concerning that no one saw all of this and concluded that there was no evidence or no reason to believe that there could be a rapid collapse," Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said.

Blinken said that the administration did not see anything to suggest Afghansitain would collapse in a matter of 11 days. In fact, Blinken said the U.S. Embassy in Kabul intended to stay open beyond the August 31 withdrawal deadline.

He also laughed off accusations from Senator James Risch (R-ID) that someone is turning off President Joe Biden's microphone during speeches, saying that the president speaks for himself and made the "big strategic" decisions during the Afghanistan mission.

Ultimately, Blinken said he was not resigning and took responsibility for his decisions and the actions of the State Department.

KEY MOMENTS

The live updates for this blog have ended.

Blinken Senate Hearing
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies during the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing to examine the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, on September 14, 2021 in Washington, DC. Bill O'Leary/Getty Images

Menendez says he takes the oversight function of the legislature "very seriously"

Following the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that lasted over three hours, Chairman Bob Menendez told Chuck Todd that the U.S. Afghanistan withdrawal was "fatally flawed" for several reasons.

It was fatally flawed, he said, beginning with "[Donald] Trump's surrender agreement with Taliban," intelligence that "was clearly wrong" about the durability of the Afghan government and security forces, and lack of worst-case scenario preparations by the State Department.

"For 20 years, Congress has either been lied to, misled or been given overly rosy projections," he said. "We've gotta learn from that so we don't have the next Afghanistan."

Menendez also said he looks forward to having Defense Secretary Llyod Austin in front of the committee because "foreign policy in part depends upon the defense actions that are taken by the nation."

He also takes the oversight function of the legislative branch seriously and will "do what is necessary to exercise that oversight function."

"I hope that in this case and other there will be cooperation," he added, noting that he plans to call officials from previous administrations, including generals and agencies heads, to speak before the committee.

Pentagon responds to Menendez subpoena threat

The Pentagon responded to Senator Bob Menendez threatened to subpoena Secretary of Defense Llyod Austin to appear in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The Secretary thanks Chairman Menendez for his interests in having him appear today and regrets that conflicting commitments made that appearance impractical," Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement.

"He greatly respects the oversight role of the Congress, and he looks forward to testifying at the end of this month before the Senate and House Armed Services Committee," he continued.

There were "a handful" of sexual abuse cases among Afghan children evacuated to bases, Blinken says

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) asked Secretary Blinken how many Afghan children at military bases or transit points in other countries were subject to sexual abuse by older male evacuees.

Blinken said that everyone involved in the process, in the U.S. or abroad, has exercised "extreme vigilance to deal with any cases or concerns."

When pressed to give a number of such instances, Blinken said there was "a handful of cases" of sexual abuse.

Cruz presses Blinken on names of Americans, vulnerable Afghans given to Taliban

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was "the worst foreign policy catastrophe in a generation."

He added that Jimmy Carter owns the disaster of the Iran hostage crisis and you [Secretary Blinken] own this.

Cruz blasted Biden and Democratic senators who blame the Afghanistan crisis on former President Donald Trump, saying "the Biden administration caused this disaster."

He then expressed his concern that the State Department gave the Taliban the names of American citizens and Afghan allies.

Secretary Blinken denied reports that his department "endangered civilians" and said that the U.S. gave a manifest to checkpoints in "limited instances" to allow people on buses through. He said those on the manifest were all let through the checkpoint.

Blinken would not give an exact number of how many names were on the manifests.

"I am responsible for the decisions I made," Blinken says

During both hearings in the House and the Senate, Secretary Blinken has faced criticism for a lack of accountability taken in the wake of the Afghanistan withdrawal.

"What we've witnessed here is a failure of leadership," Senator Bill Haggerty (R-TN) said during the Senate hearing, "that has deflected blame and shamed us as a nation."

In response, Secretary Blinken said he was taking responsibility for his decisions and actions in Afghanistan.

"I am responsible for the decisions I made, for the actions of my department, for learning lessons from those actions, and for holding myself accountable to you and through you to the American people which is exactly what I'm doing here today, and through other briefings, and will continue to do going forward," Blinken said.

Blinken says he is not resigning

Senator Bill Haggerty (R-TN) asked Secretary Blinken if he submitted his resignation over the withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Blinken said he is not resigning.

Senator Paul grills Blinken over drone strike attack, aid money

Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) said it was "naive" to believe the Taliban won't take the aid the U.S. sends to humanitarian aid efforts in Afghanistan

Paul suggested subtracting the $80 million in military equipment left behind from the millions of dollars the Biden administration promised to send for aid.

He said giving money to the Taliban will "add insult to injury" after 13 U.S. service members were killed in Kabul.

Paul also grilled Blinken on the recent drone strike that reportedly mistakenly killed an aid worker and several civilians.

Blinken said he did not know whether the man killed was an ISIS-K operative or an aid worker, but that the administration is investigating the incident.

"Maybe you create hundreds of new potential terrorists from bombing the wrong people," Paul said. "We can't have an investigation after we kill people, we have an investigation before you bomb people."

Senator Portman says 3/4 of Afghans airlifted did "not qualify" to be evacuated

Secretary Blinken said the U.S. prioritizes evacuating American citizens, and will also aim to evacuate the "several thousand" legal permanent residents and SIV applicants left in Afghanistan.

Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) said Blinken's statement that the "overwhelming number of people who are at risk, got out" was not true.

Portman said that three-quarters of the Afghans evacuated were "not qualified."

U.S. Embassy in Kabul expected to stay open following August 31 withdrawal, Blinken says

Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) asked Blinken why the U.S. did not push back the evacuation deadline past August 31.

Blinken said "we took a risk" pushing the date back for the initial May 1 deadline. He said the military needed three to four months to conduct its retrograde efforts in a strong and orderly way."

"Our expectation was that beyond August 31, beyond a military drawdown, the government, the security forces, were going to remain in control of Kabul," Blinken said.

He added that the U.S. embassy expected to continue operations in Kabul.

"What we did not anticipate was that 11-day collapse of the Afghan security forces. That's what changed everything," Blinken said.

Blinken says Taliban has not severed its relationship with al Qaeda

Secretary Blinken said the relationship between the Taliban and al Qaeda or the Haqqani network "has not been severed."

"It's a very open question as to whether their views and the relationship has changed," he said.

Blinken said that there are "strong disincentives" in place for the Taliban to not carry out attacks with al Qaeda. He noted that the Taliban and ISIS-K are "sworn enemies."

He also expressed an openness to writing new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) to deal with ISIS-K and the re-emergence of al-Qaeda.

Senator Shaheen calls out "hypocrisy" after Republican senators blocked efforts to help SIV applicants

Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) addressed her fellow committee members, asking where the outrage from Republicans was when efforts to get more Afghan SIVs into the U.S. that she led for a decade were blocked "year after year" by some Republicans.

"Let's stop with the hypocrisy about who's to blame," she said.

She also drew attention to the safety of women and girls in Afghanistan under Taliban rule.

She added that she wants to know "where that outrage was during the negotiations by the Trump administration and former Secretary Pompeo when they were giving away the rights of women and girls" in their peace deal with the Taliban.

Shaheen is the only woman on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Blinken said that the administration will appoint a senior official to lead efforts to help women and girls in Afghanistan

Senator Rubio calls out U.S. intelligence officials for not seeing the rapid collapse of Afghan forces

Senator Marco Rubio said there was "an already-bad status quo in Afghanistan" in 2020 and the U.S. should have known there was going to be a rapid collapse of Afghan forces before the withdrawal efforts began.

"It's concerning that no one saw all of this and concluded that there was no evidence or no reason to believe that there could be a rapid collapse," Rubio said.

He added that if the U.S. did not see this intelligence, Rubio said "we have the wrong people in leadership."

Blinken said that by July, the situation was deteriorating as the Taliban made progress on the ground. However, he said that the intelligence community did not see that the situation would collapse within days.

"Nothing we [he and General Mark Milley] saw suggested Afghanistan would collapse in a matter of days."

Blinken agreed with Rubio that "we need to look back at all of this," referring to intelligence community assessments.

100 American citizens remain in Afghanistan who want to leave

Blinken said the number of American citizens who want to leave Afghanistan is about 100.

He added that it is difficult to pin down an exact number, as some people change their plans or desire to leave or stay "day by day."

Blinken does not have an exact number of SIV applicants or Afghans at risk the U.S. is looking to evacuate but said a breakdown is coming in the next few weeks.

Blinken will not share "dissent cable"

Secretary Blinken said the state Department will not share the so-called dissent cable from diplomats in July that warned about a more rapid Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

Blinken said those cables are "designed only to be shared with senior officials at the department."

He added that sharing the cable could have a "chilling effect" among diplomats who want to share their thoughts without fear of repercussion.

Blinken says Biden makes all decisions, speaks for himself

When Senator Risch asked who was responsible for the Afghanistan withdrawal mission, Blinken said the president ultimately made the decisions in the operation.

He added that President Joe Biden makes the big strategic decisions and agency officials make tactical decisions.

Senator Risch pressed Blinken on whether someone can "push the button and turn off the sound to stop [Biden] from speaking."

Blinken denied these claims, laughing it off and saying there is no such person and that Biden speaks for himself.

Blinken said the U.S. began planning for "worst-case scenarios" in the spring/summer

Blinken said the administration began planning for "worst-case scenarios" for the Afghanistan evacuation mission in the spring and summer.

Senators Menendez asked if the U.S. should have started earlier on the surge of resources to process SIV applicants.

Blinken said the State Department did surge those resources, noting that they quadrupled the number of people processing visas in Washington.

"I believe we did surge those resources," Blinken said. "We have a very lengthy process of 14 steps, multiple agencies involved. We worked to try to streamline that."

Blinken added that the administration did not anticipate the Afghan government and security forces would crumble in 11 days.

Blinken reiterates U.S. commitments following Afghanistan exit

Blinken reiterated the U.S. commitment to continue evacuation efforts for American citizens and Afghan allies who want to leave Afghanistan and hold the Taliban accountable and maintain "robust" counterterrorism capabilities and support humanitarian aid efforts for Afghans in need.

Blinken testifies in-person for Senate hearing

Secretary Blinken gives his opening statement in person at the Senate hearing.

He was criticized for appearing before the House Foreign Affairs Committee via video conference Monday.

Blinken promised again to stay to answer all lawmaker's questions, as he did Monday.

Blinken appears to be reading essentially the same opening statement he gave in front of the House committee, defending President Biden's efforts to end America's 20-year war.

Menendez may subpoena Secretary Austin to testify

Senator Menendez said he was "very disappointed" that Defense Secretary Llyod Austin declined the committee's request to testify on Afghanistan Tuesday.

Menendez said he may subpoena Austin and other officials to testify on the U.S.'s 20-year operation in Afghanistan.

He added that this will affect his personal judgment of the Defense Department nominees.

Committee ranking member James Risch (R-ID) reiterated Menendez's disappointment, saying the withdrawal from Afghanistan was an "interagency failure."

"The fact that you're the only one stepping up is disheartening," Risch said.

Senator Menendez calls U.S. Afghan exit "fatally flawed"

Senator Bob Menedez (D-NJ), the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, opened the hearing with a story of an Afghan journalist who was heated by Taliban forces last week.

Menendez said the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was "clearly and fatally flawed."

"There has to be accountability," he said, noting that "successive administrations" have "lied" to congress about the durability of Afghan security forces.

He added that Congress will hold several hearings to understand "the many mistakes" made over 20 years in Afghanistan.

Blinken's Afghanistan hearing in front of the Senate will begin shortly

Secretary Blinken is set to give his testimony in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a few minutes.

TUNE IN: Watch live and in-person testimony from @SecBlinken at today’s #SFRC hearing on the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan: https://t.co/vDaHNZMy1E pic.twitter.com/Rl2DnKMUpN

— Senate Foreign Relations Committee (@SFRCdems) September 14, 2021

Ted Cruz says Blinken "has a lot of explaining to do"

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) said Secretary Antony Blinken "has a lot of explaining to do" ahead of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

"He has a lot of explaining to do on the catastrophic failure of policy we've seen in Afghanistan," Cruz said in a tweet.

Cruz is a member of the Committee and will be present for the questioning.

Connecticut Senator defends Biden, U.S. exit from Afghanistan

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) wrote an op-ed defending the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, ahead of Secretary of State Antony Blinken's hearing in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"The idea that the United States of America, a country located on the other side of the world from Kabul, could manage this unexpected collapse in a way that did not create panic and confusion, or be able to evacuate and find a home outside of the country for every Afghan that wanted to leave, is magical thinking," he said.

I hope you will read and share my opinion piece in advance of today’s Afghanistan hearing in the Senate:

“Why Biden's Afghanistan Critics Are Dangerously Wrong” https://t.co/rSwho4Akr8

— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) September 14, 2021

Murphy blasted President Joe Biden's critics that boast the U.S. could have managed the mission better and denounced the dangers of "military adventurism."

He concedes that the execution of the mission "was imperfect," but said that evacuating 124,000 people "cannot, by definition, be judged as a 'failure.'"

"There are plenty of negative consequences of our withdrawal from Afghanistan, but there are plenty of positive consequences as well," Murphy said.