At House Foreign Affairs hearing on Afghanistan,Smith presses Blinken on left-behind Americans, vetting, untruthfulness in Biden phone call to Ghani, and foreign policy implications including Taiwan
At today’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) pressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken for answers on the Biden Administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, including left-behind Americans, the vetting of Afghan evacuees, untruthfulness in Biden’s phone call with Afghan President Ghani, and resulting foreign policy implications such as Taiwan.
Mr. Secretary, you testified that you had encouraged Americans to leave the country, but you know, simultaneous with that was statements being made including by President Biden that Afghans’ military capability was 300,000-man strong and that they had the best training imaginable. So at best, I would say they were misled.
And you don’t mention withdrawal conditions that were placed by President Trump on any exodus from Afghanistan.
I do have a couple of questions I’d like to ask:
Did you concur and support President Biden’s July 23rd phone call telling President Ghani to be untruthful about the Taliban’s success? According to Reuters—which reviewed both the transcript and the audio—President Biden said: “And there's a need, whether it is true or not, there is a need to project a different picture."
Was that an ad lib by President Biden or was that lie scripted into the phone call, and if it was scripted, by who?
Secondly, have any Americans been arrested, beaten, abducted, or killed by the Taliban or ISIS-K since we left and do we have the capacity and the capability to know that?
Third, were there any gaps or weaknesses in the vetting process of Afghan evacuees, especially in light of the fact that reliable information on some or perhaps many who got parole wasn’t available to conduct a meaningful background check? Are you concerned that the Taliban may have embedded its members as evacuees?
I visited our base at Fort Dix recently with some of the other members of congress and our governor and asked a number of questions. But I was very concerned about the vetting–or lack thereof—and the fact that parolees—about 70% strong at our base at least and we’re going to go up to about 13,000–they can leave if they would like. They’re free to leave. It’s not clear whether or not they can return, but they are free to leave.
And finally, one of the profoundly negative consequences outside of Afghanistan has been China, and Taiwan. The state-controlled Chinese Community Party media, including CCP-run Global Times—and I read it every day—are saturating the Taiwanese with messages to give up and surrender to Beijing because the United States will, just as it did in Afghanistan, abandon them too, that’s what the Global Times is saying.
If you could start off with the first question, I’d appreciate it and go through them.
Thank you very much Congressman, let me see if I can address all those questions.
First, with regard to the phone call you cited, I am obviously not going to comment on leaked, reportedly leaked transcripts of phone calls.
Here’s what I can tell you, what the President said in that conversation with then-President Ghani is exactly what he was saying in public and it’s this: that the issue is not the capacity at that point, of the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces to hold the country and to hold Kabul.
It was their will and whether they had a plan to do so, and we were concerned that they were not demonstrating that will or that plan.
He pressed President Ghani on the need to consolidate his forces based on the military advice from our military leaders to make sure that he could defend the places that needed defending and not overstretch those forces, and he needed to bring people together.
I understand that, but my question is about the truthfulness—with all due respect, I only have a few minutes—whether or not it is true or not. Was it a real…I mean is the transcript untrue?
Again, I am not commenting on any reportedly leaked transcripts. I am telling you what, based on my knowledge of the conversation, what the president said and what he said is exactly what he said in public.
Second, with regard to American citizens remaining behind: the ones we are in contact with, we have 500 people on a task force and teams dedicated to them to be in regular contact with them, and I have not heard from those people that concerned raised. I can’t say whether there are any American citizens who we are not in contact with or don’t know of who may have been mistreated in some fashion in Afghanistan.
Third, with regard to the background checks, and this is very important, and you are right to focus on it. As you know, before Afghans evacuated from Afghanistan reached the United States, they go to a transit country, and that’s where the initial checks are done. We’ve surged customs and border patrol, we’ve surged our intelligence and law enforcement capacity to do those initial. And then when they get to the United States, first at a military base, those checks are continued using all of law enforcement, intelligence, security agencies to do that, so that we can make sure that we are not letting anyone into the country who can pose a threat or a risk. It’s exactly that balance that is so important as well in the SIV program. We all want to bring Afghans at risk into the United States, we also have an obligation that you rightly point out to the security of our fellow citizens.
Finally, on China and Taiwan, as I said earlier, whatever protestations they may be making in newspapers or their propaganda, there is nothing that China would have liked more than for us to reup the war in Afghanistan and to remained bogged down for another 5, 10 or 20 years. That would have been profoundly against our strategic interests and profoundly in China’s strategic interests.