Congress prepares to grill Biden officials over Afghanistan exit

Daniel Flatley

Congress is preparing to question officials from President Joe Biden’s administration about its handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan as criticism mounts from lawmakers of both parties.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks announced Tuesday that he has invited Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to appear before his committee to explain the administration’s strategy for evacuating U.S. citizens, Afghan allies and other vulnerable people from the country in the wake of a Taliban takeover that has unfolded with shocking speed.

House Foreign Affairs Chairman Gregory Meeks.

“The situation in Afghanistan is rapidly changing and it is imperative that the administration provide the American people and Congress transparency about its Afghanistan strategy,” Meeks, a New York Democrat, said in a statement. He said he wants Blinken and Austin to tell Congress what the administration’s plan is to safely evacuate American citizens, people with special immigrant visas and “vulnerable Afghans from the country, and to understand our broader counter terrorism strategy in South Asia following the collapse of the Ghani government.”

Meek’s statement comes just hours after Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez issued one of the harshest statements about Biden’s actions of any member of the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill.

“I am disappointed that the Biden administration clearly did not accurately assess the implications of a rapid U.S. withdrawal,” Menendez said in a statement, laying blame for the situation at the feet of both Biden and former President Donald Trump. “We are now witnessing the horrifying results of many years of policy and intelligence failures.”

Menendez said his committee will seek a “full accounting” of what happened but that, in the meantime, the focus must be on getting out allies who helped the U.S. during the two-decade war in Afghanistan.

“How the U.S. handles the evacuation over the next few days will have implications well beyond Afghanistan and will impact our ability to build coalitions and work with partners moving forward,” he said, adding that the American and Afghan people were “clearly” misled about the capabilities of the Afghan security forces.

All the Republicans on the Foreign Relations Committee, with the exception of Senator Rand Paul, have written a letter to Menendez urging him to hold hearings on Afghanistan as soon as the Senate returns to session, citing inconsistent and incomplete updates from the State Department.

“The Taliban’s ascendance and the fall of Kabul threaten U.S. national security interests on a variety of important fronts, and it is vital that the committee conduct a public hearing the first week we are back in session,” the senators wrote. “We need to hear from Secretary Blinken directly, to understand why the State Department was so ill prepared for the contingencies unfolding before us and what it will take to get the State Department back on track.”