Afghanistan updates: Blinken faces 2nd day of grilling on Capitol Hill

Written by on September 16, 2021

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(NEW YORK) — With the U.S. military and diplomatic withdrawal now complete after 20 years in Afghanistan, the Taliban has taken over the country, including the Kabul airport, the site of an often-desperate evacuation effort in past weeks.

But even as the last American troops were flown out to meet President Joe Biden’s Aug. 31 deadline, other Americans who wanted to flee the country were left behind. The Biden administration is now focused on a “diplomatic mission” to help them leave but some hoping to evacuate are still stuck in the country. Meanwhile, the Taliban has announced its new “caretaker” government which includes men with U.S. bounties on their heads — and no women.

Here are the latest developments. All times Eastern:

Sep 15, 5:34 pm
More overland evacuations of Americans from Afghanistan: State Department

One more U.S. citizen and two more lawful permanent residents evacuated Afghanistan via overland routes Tuesday, according to State Dept. spokesperson Ned Price.

The State Department provided guidance to them, engaged the Taliban on their safe passage, and had consular officials on the other side of the border to greet them, he said.

Price declined to say which country they transited to, but said these overland evacuations have taken different routes.

To date, at least 36 U.S. citizens and 24 Green Card holders have been evacuated since the U.S. military completed its withdrawal — including seven U.S. citizens and 13 Green Card holders via overland routes in total.

Yet, the agency still said the number of American citizens who want to leave is still 100. Despite growing skepticism about that number, Price — just as Blinken did Tuesday and Monday — said the number is “dynamic” because the situation is so fluid, with some Americans changing their minds about seeking U.S. help, especially as they see that “we are living up to our commitment … in safe and effective ways.”

He also implied that the lists of other Americans that aid groups, lawmakers and others have often don’t end up including folks who aren’t U.S. citizens, but the “distant relatives” and friends of Americans who come asking for help.

The U.S. continues to talk to the Taliban, but those discussions are largely about Americans’ safe passage, according to Price, calling them “pragmatic,” “technical” and “focused on practical issues.”

There’s still been no evacuations from Mazar-e-Sharif, the northern city where chartered planes had been organized but barred from taking off. Price said they’re not aware of any flights departing there, but again admitted the limits of U.S. power here saying the U.S. had pulled “every lever” available to get these flights out.

Sep 14, 2:05 pm
Blinken’s Senate hearing adjourned

After nearly five hours, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee adjourned its hearing with Secretary of State Antony Blinken — the Senate’s first on Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrawal from the country.

Following Blinken’s first hearing with House lawmakers on Monday, Tuesday’s hearing provoked a more thoughtful and less partisan discussion about the limits of American power in Afghanistan and what could have been done better — with Democrats joining Republicans in taking a tough tone with Blinken.

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., echoed Republican Sens. Mitt Romney of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida in pressing why the U.S. kept an Aug. 31 withdrawal date as it became clear more evacuations were needed and on how officials could not have foreseen the Afghan government collapsing in 11 days.

“I do not think that is true. I know it was not the consensus opinion or the most likely possibility — but the possibility of a collapse was not 0%. And it was not 1%. It probably wasn’t 10%. It was probably, based on what we have been hearing in this committee, that was always a fairly — it was a possibility that had to be grappled with,” he said.

More congressional hearings with Blinken and other top officials, including Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, are expected in the coming weeks and months.

Sep 14, 1:11 pm
US coordinating cross-border travel of Americans 

The U.S. has coordinated with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan about facilitating cross-border travel for U.S. citizens — including having U.S. consular officials on those countries’ side of the border with Afghanistan to receive evacuees, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told senators on Tuesday.

At a prior hearing with House lawmakers on Monday, Blinken confirmed one American family crossed into Uzbekistan, but before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he acknowledged for the first time they’ve coordinated with all three countries.

While some $80 billion of U.S. equipment over the last 15 years that was provided to the Afghan government has fallen into Taliban hands, Blinken claimed much of it is inoperable or will become inoperable because it requires maintenance, adding, “None of it possesses a strategic threat to us or Afghanistan’s neighbors.”

Sep 14, 12:13 pm
Blinken addresses Americans, SIV applicants left behind

Secretary of State Antony Blinken could not provide an exact number of Americans or Special Immigrant Visa holders left in Afghanistan in a heated Senate hearing on Tuesday.

He said the number of Americans that still want to evacuate is “about 100,” as he had in testimony on Monday before House lawmakers.

“It is hard to give a real-time number at any given moment because it is very fluid,” Blinken said.

Pressed by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, on SIV applicants left behind, and whether that number was in the “tens of thousands,” Blinken said the State Department is “still tabulating” it as some applicants are in transit and others are still being processed. The State Department has previously acknowledged that at least thousands are still in the country.

Blinken continued to blame the Trump administration for giving Biden a May 1 deadline to withdraw, but not a plan to do so, and said that under the Trump administration’s State Department “not a single” SIV application had been processed in nine months from March 2020.

Noting that Biden did push the withdrawal date to Aug. 31, Romney asked Blinken why not move the withdrawal date to accommodate the “moral commitment” the U.S. made to Americans, permanent residents and vulnerable Afghans who worked with Defense and State officials.

“The military told us that in order to do its retrograde, it’s drawdown from Afghanistan, in a safe and ordinarily way, it needed three to four months. That’s why we pushed to move beyond May 1 and to get to the end of August, early September,” Blinken said.

“Our expectation was that beyond August 31, beyond the military drawdown, the government, the security forces, were going to remain in control of Kabul,” Blinken continued. “What we did not anticipate was that 11-day collapse of the government security forces. That’s what changed everything.”

Sep 14, 10:50 am
Blinken faces bipartisan criticism in Senate hearing

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s second day of tough questions on Capitol Hill has begun — and already the Democratic chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has been highly critical.

Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., called Biden’s execution of the U.S. withdrawal “clearly fatally flawed” and said information from State, the Pentagon, and the White House during the operations was “vague or contradictory.”

“Doing the right thing in the wrong way can end up being the wrong thing,” Menendez added. “There has to be accountability.”

Menendez also went after Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin — saying he declined to appear before the committee with Blinken. Menendez said he was “very disappointed” and may use the committee’s subpoena power to have him and others responsible over the last 20 years appear for testimony. Austin is scheduled to appear on Capitol Hill next week.

But like Democrats on Monday, Menendez laid the blame on several people — “successive administrations” making the “same mistakes repeatedly” and lying to Congress about the staying power of Afghan government institutions. He cited the “surrender deal negotiated” by former President Donald Trump, adding it was “built on a bed of lies.”

Sep 14, 10:07 am
Senate lawmakers to grill Blinken on evacuation mission

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in the hot seat again on Tuesday to defend the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan before angry lawmakers from both parties.

Blinken appears before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the morning following testimony on Monday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in which Blinken used the same defenses the administration has used for weeks now.

“There’s no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining,” he said.

Blinken blamed the Trump administration’s deal with Taliban to withdraw by May 1, said NATO allies were on board, cited the travel warnings for American citizens to leave, defended their efforts to revive the Special Immigrant Visa Program, and said no one saw the Afghan government’s collapse coming so swiftly.

Sep 13, 3:06 pm
Blinken delivers opening testimony in 1st Afghanistan hearing

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, representing the Biden administration, defended the U.S. evacuations from Afghanistan to House lawmakers on Monday in the first hearing on Afghanistan on Capitol Hill.

“There is no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining,” Blinken said. “If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or ten, make a difference?”

He blamed the Trump administration’s deal with Taliban to withdraw by May 1, said NATO allies were on board, cited the travel warnings for American citizens to leave, defended their efforts to revive the Special Immigrant Visa program, and said no one saw the Afghan government’s collapse coming so swiftly.

“Nonetheless, we planned and exercised a wide range of contingencies,” he will say — praising the evacuations as “an extraordinary effort under the most difficult conditions imaginable” and reminding lawmakers that previous administrations shuttered embassies and withdrew from countries while leaving some U.S. citizens behind.

Blinken confirmed there are still roughly 100 U.S. citizens left in the country that are trying to evacuate and the State Department is in constant touch with them, he said.

Sep 13, 2:49 pm
GOP congressman blasts Blinken on ‘failed’ US evacuation mission

Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, came out swinging in his opening statement before Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified at the first Capitol Hill hearing on Afghanistan since the chaotic U.S. evacuation mission ended.

“Mr. Secretary, the American people don’t like to lose, especially not to the terrorists. But that is exactly what has happened,” McCaul said.

Painting a picture of Taliban flags flying in Kabul, recalling the 13 service members killed in August and reminding that Americans and Afghan allies are still stuck in the country, McCaul said he could summarize the U.S. evacuation mission in one word: “Betrayal.”

“The America I know keeps its promises. The most important promise for our military is no man left behind. No one left behind. But you broke this promise,” he said.

“Our standing on the world stage has been greatly diminished. Our enemies no longer fear us. And our allies no longer trust us,” McCaul said, going on to directly address veterans and say their service was “not in vain.”

The committee chairman, Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., criticized Republicans for expressing outrage at Blinken but not at the Trump administration for making a deal with the Taliban to withdraw troops in May.

Sep 13, 1:30 pm
Funeral service held in Ohio Navy corpsman killed in Kabul airport bombing

A funeral service was held Monday morning in Milan, Ohio, for Navy Corpsman Maxton Soviak, 22, who was killed in the Kabul airport suicide bombing. The service was held at the Edison High School Stadium — Soviak’s alma mater.

He played football and wrestled before graduating in 2017. School leaders remembered him as “full of life in everything he did.”

“Max was a good student who was active in sports and other activities throughout his school career,” Superintendent Thomas Roth said in a statement to ABC News. “He was well respected and liked by everyone who knew him.”

Soviak enlisted in September 2017 and was assigned to the 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, and based in Camp Pendleton, California. He served as a hospital corpsman, or medic.

“He was very passionate about helping his fellow Americans and trying to get them home safely,” Rachel Soviak, his mother, said in a statement. “There are no words to describe the pain our family is feeling. There will forever be a hole in our hearts.”

Soviak is survived by his mother, father and 12 brothers and sisters.

Sep 13, 1:03 pm
Blinken to defend Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal

Secretary of State Blinken will be in the hot seat on Capitol Hill this week as the Biden administration’s point person to defend the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan to angry lawmakers from both parties.

In testimony on Monday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Blinken will use the same defenses the administration has used for weeks now, according to his opening statement obtained by ABC News.

“There’s no evidence that staying longer would have made the Afghan security forces or the Afghan government any more resilient or self-sustaining. If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or ten, make a difference?” read his prepared remarks.

His opening statement blames the Trump administration’s deal with Taliban to withdraw by May 1 deadline, says NATO allies were on board, cites the travel warnings for American citizens to leave, defends their efforts to revive the Special Immigrant Visa Program, and says no one saw the Afghan government’s collapse coming so swiftly.

“Nonetheless, we planned and exercised a wide range of contingencies,” he is expected to say — praising the evacuations as “an extraordinary effort under the most difficult conditions imaginable” and reminding lawmakers that previous administrations shuttered embassies and withdrew from countries while leaving some U.S. citizens behind — “for example, in Libya, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen, and Somalia.”

Sep 13, 1:06 pm
Funeral procession in Indiana hometown for Marine killed in Kabul

On Sunday, residents of Logansport, Indiana, watched the funeral procession for Marine Corps Cpl. Humberto Sanchez, one of the 13 U.S. service members killed in the Aug. 26 ISIS-K suicide bombing at the Kabul airport.

Sanchez, 22, was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, I Marine Expeditionary Force, and based in Camp Pendleton, California. He was a graduate of Logansport High School.

Sep 13, 10:28 am
Blinken to testify in 1st Capitol Hill hearing since US withdrawal 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken will likely face tough questions from House lawmakers at 2 p.m. when he testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee — the first Capitol Hill hearing on Afghanistan since the chaotic U.S. evacuation mission ended.

Frustrated Republicans are expected to press Blinken on Americans still stranded in the country as well as vetting for Afghan refugees in the U.S., and Democrats to defend the Biden administration for ending America’s longest war.

Biden administration officials, including Blinken, have blamed the now-failed Afghan government for collapsing so quickly to the Taliban as the U.S. continues its “diplomatic” mission in the country, without State of Defense Department officials on the ground.

Following Monday’s expected grilling, Blinken is scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday.

Sep 11, 2:16 pm
NATO secretary general says thorough assessment launched into Taliban takeover of Afghanistan

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg wrote in an op-ed published Saturday that a “thorough assessment” has been launched into the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan.

“Indeed, there are many hard questions we need to ask honestly about our engagement. There are lessons that we must all learn,” he wrote in the article, which published in the German newspaper Die Welt.

Stoltenberg also emphasized the “essential” role military force plays in combating terrorism and the importance of cross continental collaboration.

Sep 11, 10:43 am
44 US citizens invited on flight leaving Afghanistan, some decline

The second passenger flight to leave Kabul since the U.S. military withdrawal landed in Doha Friday, with 19 U.S. citizens on board despite 44 being invited on the flight, a State Department official said.

The official cited “various reasons” for U.S. citizens declining to get on the flight.

The department will continue its efforts to ensure safe passage for any Afghan partners who want to leave Afghanistan, the official said, but didn’t say that included inviting Afghans on Thursday’s or Friday’s chartered flights.

“We made every effort on short notice to utilize all available seats. We invited U.S. citizens and LPRs [lawful permanent residents] who indicated their willingness to depart on short notice,” the official said.

While there are so many Afghans still desperate to leave, the official said, “Our first priority continues to be assisting U.S. citizens and LPRs who wish to depart Afghanistan.”

-ABC News’ Conor Finnegan.

Sep 11, 10:29 am
3 Afghan refugees diagnosed with measles in northern Virginia

After the U.S. temporarily halted all U.S.-bound flights of Afghan evacuees from overseas bases Friday in response to four evacuees testing positive for measles, the Virginia Department of Health announced that three Afghan refugees were diagnosed with measles in northern Virginia.

“Out of an abundance of caution, health districts in northern Virginia are informing people who were at various locations listed below during the specified time frames, that they may have been exposed to one of three people diagnosed with measles,” the announcement said. “These individuals recently traveled from Afghanistan as part of the United States government’s emergency evacuation efforts”

The department of health listed possible exposure at Dulles Airport on Sept. 3, 4 and 8, at StoneSprings Hospital Center on Sept. 6 , Inova L.J. Murphy Children’s Hospital on Sept. 7 and 8, the Dulles Expo Center from Sept. 4-8, and at the Crowne Plaza Dulles Airport from Sept. 4-9.

The health department is coordinating efforts to reach those who were possibly exposed, according to the statement.

ABC News’ Michelle Stoddart

Sep 10, 3:19 pm
Afghan evacuee flights to US halted after measles cases

The U.S. has temporarily halted all U.S.-bound flights of Afghan evacuees from bases overseas after four evacuees tested positive for measles, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a briefing on Friday.

“Operation Allies’ welcome flights into the United States have been temporarily paused at the request of the CDC, and out of an abundance of caution because of four diagnosed cases of measles among Afghans who recently arrived in the United States,” Psaki said. “These individuals are being quarantined in accordance with public health guidelines, and the CDC has begun full contact tracing.”

Psaki said all Afghans are required to be vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella as a condition of entry into the U.S. and that those immunizations are being administered as refugees are received at domestic military bases. The White House is also exploring measures to vaccinate people while they are still overseas, she said.

“But it was again a step recommended by the CDC out of an abundance of caution given for measles cases,” Psaki added.

Sep 10, 3:00 pm
White House confirms ‘overland’ passage, 2nd flight with Americans landing in Doha

National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne has confirmed that U.S. citizens and permanent residents were among those on the second passenger flight to leave Kabul since the U.S. military withdrawal. There were also Americans and lawful permanent residents taken out of  Afghanistan on Friday “via overland passage,” she said.

“Today the United States government facilitated the additional departures of U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents both on a chartered Qatar Airways flight from Kabul and via overland passage to a neighboring country. The Qatar Airways flight held 19 U.S. citizens and the party traveling overland included two U.S. citizens and 11 lawful permanent residents,” she said.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price previously confirmed that Thursday’s flight had 10 U.S. citizens and 11 lawful permanent residents, or green card holders, on board.

-ABC News’ Ben Siegel

Sep 10, 12:46 pm
2nd Qatari flight lands in Doha with foreigners on board

A second Qatar Airways flight from Kabul landed in Doha at 7:29 p.m. local time, according to flight data, with an unknown number of foreign nationals on board.

The flight number for the Boeing 777 — QR7277 — was the same as Thursday’s, the first flight out of Kabul since all U.S. personnel withdrew.

Sep 10, 12:23 pm
Kinzinger blasts US evacuation mission as ‘strategic failure’

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., criticized the Biden administration’s handling of evacuations from Kabul as a “strategic failure” on ABC’s “The View” on Friday and expressed deep concern for what will happen in the coming weeks as the Taliban exercises complete control of the country.

“Afghanistan has a constitution. That constitution and that government was overthrown by force by a military coup of the Taliban. I don’t think at any other time we’d look at a military coup by an enemy, in a country of an ally and say, we’re looking forward to finding opportunities to work with them,” Kinzinger said, as the U.S. cooperates with the Taliban to get some 100 remaining Americans out.

.@RepKinzinger to @TheView on the end of the Afghanistan war: “On the micro-level, we’ve changed a lot of lives… but on a geopolitical level, it’s hard to look at this as anything but a strategic failure.” https://t.co/w3c681Prf2 pic.twitter.com/hXHkhc7i4k

— The View (@TheView) September 10, 2021

“There will be a moment, I fear, when the cell towers come down or the information is locked down, and we see the acceleration of the brutalization of women, of gays, of people that are different than what the Taliban wants them to be,” he added.

Kinzinger argued there is “so much hypocrisy” in the debate on whom to blame for the war ending as it began, under Taliban rule, including on all four presidents preceding Biden, but said the execution of the withdrawal is “what’s broken so many hearts.”

-ABC News’ Joanne Rosa contributed to this report

Sep 10, 11:33 am
2nd passenger plane takes off from Kabul

A second Qatar Airways flight has taken off from the airport in Kabul with an unknown number of Americans on board, a day after the more than 100 foreign nationals left Afghanistan on the first flight out since the U.S. military’s withdrawal.

State Department spokesperson Ned Price confirmed that 39 Americans had been invited on Thursday’s chartered Qatar Airways flight from Kabul and from that group, 10 U.S. citizens and 11 lawful permanent residents, or green card holders, flew out.

Another 43 Canadian citizens, 13 British citizens and others were also aboard.

The Biden administration offered some praise for the Taliban on Thursday for their cooperation as officials try to fly out some 100 Americans without U.S. troops or a State Department presence on the ground.

Sep 10, 8:00 am
US has ‘many means’ to get intelligence in Afghanistan, Mayorkas says

The United States has “many means” of gathering intelligence in Afghanistan despite not having boots on the ground, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Friday.

“We no longer have troops in Afghanistan, but we have other resources to learn information on the ground and we certainly use those resources to the best of our abilities,” Mayorkas told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in an interview on “Good Morning America.”

“We are quite creative and quite capable of learning information from coast-to-coast and all over the world,” he added.

Mayorkas noted that the U.S. government is watching the potentially re-emerging terrorist threat in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan “very closely.”

“We watch the threat landscape all over the world,” he added. “We have built an entire architect to protect, to safeguard the American people.”

But the greatest threat to the U.S. homeland is currently domestic terrorism, according to Mayorkas.

“Individuals who are prone to violence by reason of an ideology of hate or false narratives that we see on social media or other online platforms,” he said. “I think it’s a sad thing to see hate emerge, as we have observed it emerge over the last several years.”

With the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks approaching, Mayorkas said the government is not aware of any “specific credible threats targeting the United States” on the somber date.

“But we are vigilant,” he added. “We watch the information, we learn information; but at this point in time, we don’t know of any threat on the anniversary.”

Sep 09, 3:57 pm
More than 30 Americans invited as passengers on flight from Kabul, some declined

More than 30 U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents were invited by the U.S. to be passengers on the first chartered flight out of Kabul since the American evacuation mission ended, but not all said yes. Some said no because of medical reasons, extended family members or their desire for more time, among other reasons, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

Price said he could not give an exact number of those who did make Thursday’s flight to Qatar.

Echoing an earlier statement from the National Security Council, Price said he welcomed the Qatari Airways departure from Kabul. He said he hopes and expects more flights will be allowed to continue in the days to come.

Sep 09, 2:16 pm
White House confirms flight with Americans landed in Qatar, calls Taliban cooperation ‘professional’

National Security Council spokesperson Emily Horne has confirmed that U.S. citizens and permanent residents were among the passengers on the first charter flight to leave the airport in Kabul since Qatar took over operations at the airport and that they have safely landed in Qatar.

The statement offered no passenger numbers, so it’s unclear how many U.S. citizens were on board, but it did provide some praise for the Taliban’s cooperation.

“The Taliban have been cooperative in facilitating the departure of American citizens and lawful permanent residents on charter flights from HKIA. They have shown flexibility, and they have been businesslike and professional in our dealings with them in this effort. This is a positive first step,” the statement said.

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