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tv   Secretary of State Testifies on Afghanistan Withdrawal  CSPAN  September 14, 2021 10:04am-11:00am EDT

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[indiscernible] sen. menendez: this hearing of the senate foreign relations committee will come to order. secretary blinken, thank you for joining us today. last week, the new york times reported on a local afghan reporter who was covering a demonstration by several women protesting against the taliban. he was arrested, his karma confiscated.
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he said i told them i was a journalist and showed them my id card, but they accused me of organizing the protests. they took me to a room, tied my hands with a scarf, and started beating me. the horror he experienced is hard to fathom. one of his colleagues said they were mocking us and saying you want freedom? what freedom? this is not the taliban of 2001. this happened last week. amid the accents of oversight work planned in afghanistan, we must not lose sight of people like the journalist and the women who continue to protest in the streets, calling for freedom in the face of violence and threats. the repression of the afghan people is happening in real time, and the world must bear witness and hold the taliban accountable.
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let me turn to the focus of today's hearing. mr. secretary, the execution of the u.s. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed. this committee expects a full explanation since coming into office last january. that has to be accountability. we will have other hearings to develop a set of lessons learned over the course of the war to understand the many mistakes made over the course of 20 years. the diversion of attention and resources from the bush administration -- when the bush administration decided to invade iraq despite its irrelevance to the 9/11 attacks. the doubledealing by the pakistan to provide a safe haven for the taliban. the list goes on. we need to understand why successive administrations made so many of the same mistakes repeatedly. perhaps most urgently, we need to understand why the afghan government and military collapsed so precipitously.
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this collapse laid bare that successive administrations lied to the congress over the years over the durability of afghan military and governing institutions, and we need to understand why. the chaos of last august is due in large part to the february 2020 surrender deal negotiated by president trump, a deal clearly built on a set of lies, a deal that led to the release of 5000 hardened taliban fighters, boosting the militant group on the cattle field this summer. we know now that the taliban had no intention of pursuing a political path and peace deal with the afghan government. it had no intention of pursuing a democratic path. it had no intention of breaking ties with al qaeda. and they clearly had no intention of allowing women their rightful seat at the table and to purchase dissipate fully in society.
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to demand the taliban abide by its commitments and excited different result is somewhat absurd. the taliban rules with afghanistan -- rules afghanistan, so we will have to deal with it in some form. but there is no such thing as a reformed taliban. this group is woefully stuck in the 14th century with no will to come out. their concept of lyrical representation is based squarely on the use of violent force and intimidation. the administrations as we should judge the taliban by their actions, and i agree. their actions since taking over afghanistan have been horrifying -- beating women activists, murdering ethnic and religious minorities, separating classrooms by gender, shutting down local media, refusal to break with al qaeda, appointing the head of a foreign terrorist organization, as designated by our government, to lead the
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ministry of interior. the list goes on. with this in mind, the united states and united nations should maintain existing sanctions on the taliban. the u.s. should reimpose those sanctions, which were waived during the negotiations process, and the u.s. should consider new sanctions to impose higher costs on its leaders while assuring humanitarian aid is able to assist those most vulnerable. nor should any country be in a rush to unilaterally recognize this regime. a minimum of the following criteria must be met before recognition is even considered -- absolute repudiation of the taliban of all cross-border terrorism, including al qaeda and associated groups. equality of rights for girls and women. protection of minority ethnic and religious groups. commitment to democratic elections. condemning all narcotics related
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activity. yes, the taliban run afghanistan, but this does not mean we ever accept their behavior. i supported the decision to eventually withdraw our military from afghanistan. i have long maintained that how the united states left matter. doing the right thing in the wrong way can end up being the wrong thing. to get this right, the biden administration needed to answer two fundamental questions -- first, would withdrawal leave a durable political arrangement in its wake? second, with the u.s. and our allies maintain the ability to conduct intelligence to counter terrorist organizations seeking to do us harm, including isis-k? i believe the u.s. clearly fell short on the first measure. the second, time will tell. but the prospects do not look good.
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upon coming into office, how did the biden administration assess the impact on the ground of president trump's flawed deal with the taliban? did the administration attempt to negotiate better terms with alabama -- with the taliban upon coming to office? second, did the withdrawal announcement set forth any contingency planning in the event that the taliban rapidly took control of the country? what was the plan to evacuate all americans? or was the plan to evacuate civ's and other at-risk groups or those affiliated with voice of america, the national endowment for democracy, and other u.s.-funded organizations? president trump, with stephen miller, intentionally blocked siv's from being processed, which is a barbaric and cruel decision which likely resulted
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in death for some of our partners. did the biden administration specifically accelerate processing siv's upon coming into office? i expect you will address some of these in your opening remarks. let me applaud of efforts of the personnel on the ground from the departments of the state of defense who worked under horrific circumstances. their actions in evacuating hundreds of thousands were nothing short of heroic. they deserve answers. the american public deserve answers. and the afghan people deserve answers. let me close with three points. first, while communication with the administration has been frequent throughout this crisis, information from state, the white house, and the pentagon have often been vague. this was obviously a fluid situation. this has to improve.
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member frustration came on top of years of stonewalling by the trump administration and its refusal to engage the senate on the taliban negotiations. this is one of the examples why i have trying to pursue the case act to understand what are the written agreements that come between an administration and others. maybe if we had seen all of the elements of it, we would have been in better position. and i am disappointed secretary austin declined our request to testify today. a full accounting of the u.s. response to the crisis is not complete without the pentagon, especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the u.s.-trained and funded afghan military. his decision not to appear will affect my personal judgment on department of defense nominees. i expect the secretary to avail himself to the committee in the future, and if he should not, i may consider the use of appeal -- subpoena power to compel him
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and others to testify. and i implore the emaciation to remain focused on afghanistan. it is clearly that critically important that the world that witness and take action in response to taliban abuses. i strongly urge sustained attention on afghanistan in the years to come. also urge the relocation of our civil society partners who were behind in afghanistan. they include heroic individuals working for organizations on the front lines of u.s. efforts to strengthen democracy and human rights, including the rights of afghan women and girls. finally, i know that senator young is not with us today -- he is home in indiana, attending the funeral of marine corporal humberto sanchez, among the
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marines killed at the kabul airport. i asked for a moment of silence and that we honor the thousands of military and civilians who were casualties. thank you. for that, let me turn to ranking member risch. sen. risch: thank you very much. secretary blinken, good morning. welcome back to our committee. you are doing the right thing testifying. i thank you. however, like the chairman, i am disappointed some of your colleagues declined to testify, particularly secretary austin. there are questions we really need to have answers to. it is disheartening that they
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declined to testify. the debacle in afghanistan is an interagency failure, and the fact that you are the only one stepping up his disheartening. i agree with the chairman that this was -- this withdrawal was a dismal failure. one thing we need to get to the bottom of his who is responsible for this? who made the decisions? there are real questions as to who is making the decisions. we know for a fact that the president of the united states is somewhat is advantaged here -- he cannot even speak without someone in the white house censoring it or signing off on it. as recently as yesterday, in its athens, he was cut off by someone in the white house who makes the decision that the president of the united states is not speaking correctly. i would like to know who this person is.
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it is a puppeteer act, if you would. we need to know who is in charge and who is making these decisions. the only way we will get that is if we have people like you come in and answer these questions. i supported a responsible end to the war in afghanistan. no american things we should have left this way. america cannot end war simply by walking away. it is naive to assume our enemies will lay down their arms and leave us alone and suddenly enshrined human rights if we go home. indeed, there is a fierce battle of ideas and ambitions on the world stage. the u.s. cannot remain neutral. president biden presented the american people with a false choice in afghanistan and rushed and embarrassing retreat is a stain on america's credibility which will have implications for years to come. there were other options to check our national security interest, allowed for a more measured response, and protected
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our credibility. i feel this administration is trying to blame the previous administration. and some have said the prior administration started this and is not responsible -- that is simply not true. the prior administration, when they took steps towards withdrawing from afghanistan, entered into agreement that had very specific conditions. i was privy to those. the february 2020 agreement was contingent upon the taliban reducing violence, meeting counterterrorism commitments, and engaging in substance and -- substantive talks with the afghan government. most importantly, it was telegraphed to the taliban that failure to meet their commitments would be met with grave, grave circumstances for them. the taliban failed to meet any of these commitments, and yet, this administration turned the
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country over to them. president biden chose to withdraw from afghanistan without conditions and without prudent planning, and obviously without telegraphing to the taliban that they would enforce the conditions the taliban had agreed to. it did not happen. it was a strategic unforced error, and he did this against the advice that the commanders on the ground as one of the most embarrassing things was the strike that was made -- obviously, we cannot talk about what we know from an intelligence standpoint, but the kinetic strike made after the taliban enter the country, this strike had dire consequences for civilians but not the taliban. these are faxed. the president's withdrawal led -- slammed the door on any chance for a final piece of agreement, reversed the hard-earned right of afghan women and minorities and will result in a safe haven for terrorists, many of which
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wish to attack the united states. divided administration single-handedly created a humanitarian crisis with thousands of refugees and displaced afghans in need of immediate emergency assistance. secretary blinken, you care eyes -- you characterized the evacuation as an extra ordinary effort. the department's efforts were plagued by a lack of basic planning, a failure to identify americans, ignore competed -- replete eight -- repeated congressional offers for help. you evacuated 6040 americans and saved only -- and say only a couple hundred remain. your department told this committee in july there were 10,000 to 15,000 americans in
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afghanistan. there is a huge difference between 6000 and 15,000. what happened to these other americans? the situation with the special immigrant visa evacuations, not counting those who arrived before kabul's fall, you evacuated 705 of roughly 20,000 principal siv -- we asked what additional authorities or resources you needed. for months, we received contradictory responses or no responses at all. one of the big problems to processing siv's was that the documents needed to identify those who needed to be evacuated. the fact that the dod did not keep accurate records is a slap
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in the face. despite the enormous efforts of our troops on the ground, the preventable tragedy that unfolded at the airport in kabul was a disaster of leadership and the administration's own making. not only were you unable to ensure americans had access to the airport, many were turned away repeatedly after braving taliban checkpoints. but americans outside of kabul had absolutely no chance of evacuation. green card holders and siv's should have been prioritized for the airport as well, but there was no mechanism to get inside. it was an informal network of americans that helped americans and afghans get out. the administration is patting itself on the back for this evacuation, like an arsonist taking credit for saving people from their burning building he just set on fire. we know the u.s. military and our diplomat can do so much more than they did, if only the
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political bosses had gotten out of the way. now, we have an untold number of americans, u.s. contractors, and siv's still in afghanistan, despite repeated assurances you will get them out. planes are stranded. female students on scholarships have been abandoned. and siv's are hiding. you said you would have mechanisms for continued evacuations after 31 of august where is your plan? i have seen a rebuke from european allies. they begged us for help. but we were not helping our own citizens. how could we help them? instead, we had to rely on the generosity of partners like qatar. we have all heard and read that the united states is no longer a reliable ally, and the way this evacuation was conducted, i cannot blame them. despite strains in our relations
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with europe and our allies, everyone knew that the united states was the competent and capable partner. they trusted us to be the steady hand at the wheel that could navigate out of any situation. that confidence has been shattered. now, allies doubt our resolve, and competitors like russia and china sea weakness and think they can exploit this. the biden administration alone is responsible for this debacle. going forward, the challenges become even harder to resolve. the u.s. must rebuild its credibility. the u.s. will be more proactive policies on counterterrorism and security around the globe. over the weekend, we marked the 20th anniversary of september 11, yet we have yet to get details on how the over the horizon counterterrorism plans will succeed. we have yet to receive a single
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piece of information about the administration's revised counterterrorism plans. meanwhile, the taliban continues its relationship with al qaeda. then new interior minister has a bounty on its head from america. we much reserve the disappearing intelligence networks. additionally, any country that offered support to the taliban should risk a strategic downgrade in their relationship with the united states. we must also understand pakistan's role in this entire matter. this is a difficult but important situation. i also remain concerned the administration is rushing to normalize ties with the taliban government. this must not occur without extensive congressional notifications. your notification that you
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intended to restart foreign assistance is deeply researching -- concerning. i expect other members of this committee will speak to that. on the security front, the united states spent over $80 billion on afghan military forces, and now we see the consequence of a department of defense that operate security cooperation on its own. the taliban is now one of the best armed terrorist organizations on the planet. we have sent repeated requests for the administration's plan to get captured equipment. as secretary, i hope you will make sure all dod plans require state department -- lastly, i would like to speak directly to our military, our gold star families, humanitarian workers, and veterans. on behalf of the american
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people, i would like to say thank you. the ineptitude of this administration does not tarnish or service. what you did mattered. you served nobly. you stood on the wall and prevented a terrorist attack against the united states for over 20 years, at a enormous cost to you and your families. america will always be indebted to you. sen. menendez: mr. secretary, the secretary has agreed to stay with us until each member has the opportunity to get answers to their questions. as such, i have agreed -- sec. blinken: thank you very much. to all members, i appreciate the opportunity to be with all of you today to discuss our policy on afghanistan, including where we are, how we got here, and where we are going in the weeks and months ahead. for 20 years, congress has
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conducted oversight and provided funding for the mission in afghanistan. and i know, from my own time as a staff member here in this room, for then senator biden, just how invaluable a partner congress is. as i said when i was nominated, i believe strongly in congress' traditional role as a partner in foreign policymaking. i am committed to working with you on the path forward in afghanistan and to advance the interests of the american people. on this 20th anniversary of 9/11, as we honor nearly 3000 men, women, and children who lost their lives, we are reminded of why we went to afghanistan in the first place -- to bring justice to those who attacked us and to ensure it would never happen again. we achieved those objectives a long time ago. osama bin laden was killed in 2011. al qaeda's capabilities was
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degraded severely, including its ability to conduct overseas operations. there were -- it was time to end america's longest war. when president biden took office in january, he inherited it an agreement his predisaster -- his predisaster -- his predecessor had reached. meanwhile, it reduced our own force presence to 25,000 troops. in return, the taliban agreed to stop attacking u.s. and partner forces and to refrain from threatening afghanistan's major cities. but the taliban continued its relentless march on remote outposts, checkpoints, villages, and districts, as well as some of the major roads connecting the cities. by january of 2021, the taliban
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was in its strongest military position since 9/11 and we had the smallest number of u.s. forces in afghanistan since 2001. as a result, upon taking office, president biden immediately faced a choice between ending the war or escalating it. had he not followed through on his predecessor's commitment, attacks on our forces and those of our allies would have resumed, and the taliban nationwide assault on afghanistan's major cities would have commenced. that would have required sending substantially more u.s. forces into afghanistan to defend ourselves and prevent a taliban takeover, taking casualties and with, at best, the process of maintaining a stalemate and remaining in afghanistan indefinitely. there is no evidence staying longer would have made the afghan security forces or the afghan government anymore resilient or self-sustaining. if 20 years, hundreds of billions of dollars in support,
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equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, another 5, another 10? conversely, there is nothing that strategic competitors like china or russia or those like iran and north korea would have liked more than for america to remain bogged down in afghanistan for another decade. in advance of the decision, i was in constant contact with our allies for their views. when the president announced our withdrawal, nato immediately embraced it. similarly, we were intensely focused on the safety of americans in afghanistan. in march, we began urging them to leave the country. in total, between march and august, we sent 19 specific messages without warning, as
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well as offers of help, including financial assistance to pay for plane tickets. despite this efforts, at the time the evacuation began, there were still thousands of americans in afghanistan, almost all of whom were evacuated by august 31. many were dual citizens, living in afghanistan for years, decades, generations. deciding whether or not to leave the place they know as home is a wrenching decision. in april, we began drawing down our embassy, ordering nonessential personnel to depart. we also used at this time to significantly speed up the processing of special immigrant visas for afghanis who worked with us. we -- involving multiple agencies and a backlog of more than 17,000 siv applicants. there had not been a single siv applicant in kabul, going back
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to march of 2020. the program was basically in a stall. within two weeks of taking office, we restarted the siv applicant process in kabul. january 1, one of the first orders by president biden call for us to identify causes for undue delay and find ways to process siv applications more quickly. this spring, i directed significant additional resources to the program, expanding the team in washington processing applications from 10 to 50, doubling the number of educators -- adjudicators in kabul. even as embassy personnel began to return, we sent more council offices to kabul to process siv applications. as a result of these and other steps, including working with congress, especially this committee, senator shaheen and others, by may, we had reduced the average processing time for
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special immigrant visas by more than one year. even amid a covid surge in kabul, we continue to process visas. we went from processing 100 per week to more than 1000 per week in august. that emergency evacuation was a spark either collapse of the afghan security forces and government. throughout the year, we were constantly assessing their staying power and considering multiple scenarios. even the most pessimistic assessments did not predict that the government forces in kabul would collapse while u.s. forces remained. they were focused on what would happen after the united states withdrew, from september onward. as general milley has said, nothing i or anyone else saw indicated a collapse of this army and this government in 11 days. nonetheless, we planned an
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exercise a wide range of contingencies. because of that plan, we were able to draw down our embassy and move our remaining personnel to the airport within 48 hours, and the military, placed on standby by president biden, was able to secure the airport and start the evacuation within 72 hours. yes, that evacuation was annexed ordinary effort, amid the most difficult conditions imaginable by our diplomats, military, and intelligence professionals. they worked around the clock to get americans and at-risk afghans on planes, out of the country towards locations diplomats had arranged or negotiated in multiple countries. our consulate teamwork 24/7 to reach out to americans who could still be in the country, sending 33,000 emails by august 31. and they are still at it. in the midst of this heroic
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effort, and isis-k attack killed 13 service members and killed and wounded many afghans. they gave their lives so others could continue to live there is -- theirs. in the end, we completed one of the biggest airlift in history, 120 4000 people evacuated to safety. august 31, in kabul, the military mission in afghanistan officially ended, and a new diplomatic mission began. i want to acknowledge the more than two dozen countries that have helped with the relocation effort, some working as transit hubs, some hosting evacuees for longer periods of time. and as the 9/11 report suggested, it is essential we accelerate the appointment process for national security officials, since a catastrophic
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attack could occur with little or no notice. today, there are nearly 80 state department nominees pending before the senate. nearly two dozen have already been voted out of this committee on a strong bipartisan basis and simply await a vote in the senate. for our national security, i respectfully urge the senate and this committee to move as quickly as possible to consider and confirm all pending nominees and to address what is a significant disruption in our national security policy making. let me briefly outline what the state department has done in the last couple weeks and where we are going in the weeks ahead. first, we moved our diplomatic operations from couple to doha, where our new afghan affairs team is hard at work. many of our key partners have done the same thing. second, we continued reliance efforts to help any remaining americans, as well as afghans and civilians of partner allied nations, to leave afghanistan, if they choose.
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last week on thursday, a chartered flight with american citizens on board departed kabul and arrived in doha. these flights were the result of coordinated efforts by the united states, qatar, and turkey to reopen the airport to restart the flights. in addition to those flights, half a dozen american citizens, it does and permanent residents of the united states have also left afghanistan via overland routes with our assistance. we are in constant contact with american citizens still in afghanistan who told us they wish to leave. each have been assigned a case management team to offer specific guidance and instructions. some declined to be on the first flights thursday and friday for reasons including needing more time to make arrangements, wanting to remain with extended family for now, or medical issues that precluded traveling last week. we will continue to help americans, and afghans, to whom
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we have a special commitment, to the heart afghanistan if they choose, just as we have done in other countries where we evacuated our embassy and hundreds or even thousands of americans remained behind. for example, it in syria, yemen, somalia. there is no deadline to this effort. third, we are focused on counterterrorism. the taliban is committed to prevent terrorist groups from using afghanistan as an external base to plan terrorist attacks on others. we hold them accountable but that does not mean we will rely on them. we maintain a vigilant effort to monitor threats to neutralize those threats if necessary. and as we do and places around the world where we do not have military forces around -- on the ground. we continue our intensive
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diplomacy with allies and partners. we initiated a statement, joined by more than 100 countries, and a united nations security council resolution, setting out the international community's expectations of a taliban government. we expect the taliban to ensure freedom of travel, make it on its counterterrorism commitments, uphold the basic rights of the afghan people, including women, girls, and minorities. to name a broadly representative government. the legitimacy and support it seeks from the international community will depend entirely on its conduct. we have organized contact with key countries to ensure the international community continues to speak and act together on afghanistan and to leverage our combined influence. last week, i led a meeting of 22 countries, plus the e.u., nato, and the nine nations to outline
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our efforts. fifth, we will continue to submit aids to the afghan people. consistent with sanctions, this aid will not flow through the government but rather through independent organizations, like ngo's and u.n. agencies. yesterday, we announced the united states has provided nearly $64 million in new humanitarian assistance to meet critical health and nutrition needs, for the protection of women and minorities, and to help more children, including girls, to go back to school. in doha and rammstein, the facilities where afghans were evacuated, they are being processed before heading to their next destinations. here at home, i spent time at the dulles expo center, where more than 45,000 afghans have been processed after arriving in the united states. it is remarkable to see what our
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diplomats, our military employees from many civilian agencies, across the u.s. government have been able to achieve in a very short time. they have met an enormous human need, coordinated food, water for thousands. they have arranged medical care, including the delivery of babies. they are reuniting families that were separated, caring for unaccompanied minors. it is an extraordinary interagency effort, a testament to the power and skill and dedication and humanity of our people. i think we can all be deeply proud of what they are doing. and as we have done throughout our history, americans are now welcoming those from afghanistan into our communities, helping them resettle as they start their new lives, and that is something to be proud of as well. with that, i look forward to your questions. sen. menendez: thank you, mr. secretary. let me first by -- begin by
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asking unanimous -- calling for the nationally to protect afghan civilians, particularly women and girls. without objection, it is so ordered. let's start a series of seven minute rounds. i will hold the time tight so that every member can get there opportunity to it i will start off by making sure that i do not exceed my seven minutes. prior to the final flight out, we heard from both american citizens and afghan partners seeking to access the airport that they were either not being allowed to the gates, being sent back home, or simply abandoned. while we understand and appreciate the security issues that were at play, it is confounding that such a chaotic process arose to begin with. so when did the administration begin to plan for a worst-case scenario contingency? sec. blinken: in the spring and
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summer. sen. menendez: in the spring and summer of this year? sec. blinken: yes. multiple interagency meetings, exercises, looking at the different contingencies. sen. menendez: what was the specific planning put into the likely scenario that american citizens were going to have to evacuate under hostile conditions? sec. blinken: planning went to a number of things, including the ability to move our embassy quickly, as we did, in 48 hours, including the effort to make sure that we could control the airport, bring flights in, and evacuate people out. one of the things that happened, as you know, is that the situation outside the airport became incredibly chaotic, with thousands of people amassing at the airport, at the gates of the airport, and that created, among other things, a very challenging situation. sen. menendez: should we not have started earlier, should th
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ere be a biiger surge on the siv issue? i think it is only fair to put in context that your own testimony suggested there was a 17,000 siv backlog? nine months had passed by without a single interview, so obviously you inherited significant backlog. how many siv's were awarded during the trump administration? sec. blinken: i do not have the numbers in front of me, but over the course of the administration, there must have been several thousand. sen. menendez: so the question then is should we not have surged more significantly? knowing that you are preparing for a contingency of a worst-case scenario, should not come back in march, there have been a more significant surge to process siv's and determine the entire universe of who needed to be taken out? sec. blinken: i believe we did
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surge those resources. we quadrupled the number of people in washington, doing processing of siv's, and this was at a critical stage of the processing. the most important stage, in many ways, is the chief commission of approval, the stage at which siv applicants are actually eligible under criteria established by congress for the program. and those who apply, those who actually get the approval, the washout rate is about 40% historically. because it turns out many people who apply do not qualify under the criteria set by congress or are unable to the -- to get the documentation to prove that they had worked, faithfully and loyally, for the united states. there are some situations where people are committing fraud in order to get into the program, maybe for understandable reasons. the point is, we have a very lengthy process -- 14 steps,
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multiple agencies involved. we work to try to steam run -- streamlined that. the bottom line is we did significantly surge our resources to that, particularly the chief approval process, and we went from 10 to 50 to now 61 or 62. we went from 100 visas a week to 1000 visas a week. what was not anticipated was the collapse in 11 days of the afghan government and the afghan military. sen. menendez: there have been numerous press reports over the past week about a newer, refined process for the state department to lead efforts and coordination in -- in coronation with the department of defense. can you tell us exactly what these new u.s. government-lead
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efforts are, how coordination with outside groups and individuals are being handled? by who was the nature of the -- sec. blinken: in the department, led by our former ambassador to afghanistan, who went to kabul, to the airport to lead evacuation efforts, he is core knitting all the ongoing efforts to bring people who wish to leave afghanistan out. that includes coordination with many outside groups as well as members of congress who are working themselves, heroically, to help in this effort. i met with about 75 veterans organizations a couple weeks ago , given the extraordinary efforts that veterans, either individually or as groups, are doing to help. we want to make sure that we are escorting it as we possibly can
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be. on these efforts to make sure we know who is doing what, what assistance we can provide, and make sure that we are working together going forward. we have many other people working on this task force, some dedicated to american citizens, others focused on sivs and other afghans at risk, others focused on coordinating with different groups, including members of congress. sen. menendez: i would like to give you an opportunity to set the record straight on one point. several commentators have suggested that, how the department moved forward with a crisis contingency and response bureau proposed by the trump administration as it was walking out the door, it would have been able to respond better to the afghan situation. but it is my understanding that that bureau had not been stood up yet when you decided to curtail the proposal, nor, as proposed, dated actually add any additional resources or
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capabilities to those who stayed -- who already had. it was a bureaucratic movement, just a new organizational chart, and that potentially created damage to the department's operations, not solving them. is that a fair statement? sec. blinken: it is a fair statement. sen. menendez: then what is the answer? sec. blinken: to your point in regards to the ccr, whether it became a beer or not, there was no change in the assets we already had in hand to work on these efforts. the focus of this group, either in its existing organizational structure or had it become their bureau, which, among other things, it did not because there were congressional hold across the aisle. the previous administration nonetheless went through and tried to move it forward. we decided we needed to review it. we did the review, and, as you
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described very accurately, we found that this would add no assets to what we already had in hand. it would simply create a different bureaucratic structure. having said that, this was something designed primarily for individual extractions, medical emergencies. men and women who were part of our operational medical unit are remarkable and do incredible work. but not the kind of work that would have been applicable to the large evacuation we had to conduct. thank you. sen. risch: thank you very much, mr. chairman. mr. secretary, i have listened to you and a handful of other people try to put the best face on as possible, and i can tell you the temperature of the american people is not there with you. i am not talking from a partisan basis. this goes both ways. there is not enough lipstick in
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the world to put on this pig to make it look for it than it actually is. the american people want to know who is responsible for this. let's start with this -- who is responsible? who made the decisions on this? was it the president of the united states? sec. blinken: ultimately, the president makes the decisions, that is correct. sen. risch: did he, in this case? sec. blinken: as in every case. decisions that have to be made by the president are made by the president. now of course, to be specific, senator, there are hundreds and thousands of decisions every single day that go into a situation as complex as this one. the big strategic decisions are decided by the president. the tactical and operational decisions are made by different agencies, agency heads and agency officials. sen. risch: i am more concerned
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about the top decision-making. we have all seen this. we have seen it as recently as yesterday. somebody in the white house has the authority to press the button and to cut off the president's speaking ability. who is that person? sec. blinken: i think anyone who knows the president, including members of this committee, knows that he speaks very clearly and very deliberately for himself. no one else does. sen. risch: are you saying that there is no one in the white house who can cut him off? because yesterday, it happened, and it has happened in number of times before that. it has been widely reported that someone has the ability to cut off his sound and stop him from speaking. who is that person? sec. blinken: there is no such person. again, the president speaks for himself, makes all the strategic decisions, informed by the best advice he can get from the people around him. sen. risch: so are you unaware
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this is actually happening? it happened yesterday at the interagency fire center. it was widely reported. the media has reported on it. it is not the first time it has happened. it has happened several times. are you telling this committee that this does not happen, that there is no one in the white house who pushes a button and cuts him off midsentence? sec. blinken: that is correct. sen. risch: so this did not happen yesterday at, nor on other occasions where the media showed the american people that his sentence was cut off midsentence? are you saying that did not happen? sec. blinken: senator, i really do not know what you are referring to. all i can tell you is, having worked with the my own experiene
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with the president for 20 years, anyone who stopped him from speaking his mind would probably not stay long at their job. sen. risch: let's turn to the distant cable -- dissent cable you got in july. are you able to turn this over, willing to give a copy of that to this committee? sec. blinken: senator, this dissent channel is something i placed tremendous value on. it is a way for people to speak
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to power. these cables, i've read everything a one of them. i have factored what i read and heard into my thinking and into my actions. the legitimacy of the channel, the ability for people to be able to, with confidence, share their thoughts, share their views, even when they run counter to what their seniors have said or the policies prescribed, it is vitally important we protect that channel and protect its integrity. it is designed by regulation to only be shared with senior officials in the department. what i do not want to see is some kind of chilling effect going forward that says to those who would think of writing a cable in the future that this will get out, widely be
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distributed in ways that would have that chilling effect. sen. risch: do you admit you received a dissent cable in july, signed by 200 diplomats, that warned of the catastrophic collapse coming? sec. blinken: i certainly received the cable in mid july, i read it, responded to it, and factored into my thinking. what the cable said broadly was two things. it did not suggest that the government and security forces were going to collapse prior to our departure. it did express real concerns about the durability of that government after our departure, and it focused on the efforts we were making, particularly on the siv front, to try to expedite moving them out. in fact, a number of recommendations they made was entrained.
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one it entrained was the establishment of the allied operations refuge. that operation was put into place july 14. this was in effort to expedite the identification and relocation of siv's, actually putting them on planes, which, as you know, is not part of the program, actually relocating them, and working to establish transit sites so we could put them there while we finished processing them. sen. risch: that is the problem with us not having access to that cable. you are telling us that, but we have been told by others it wasn't significantly different than what you are saying. also, we really would like to see the response to that, because i think history will be interested in that particular cable and your response to it. i will save my next cushion for the next round. sen. menendez: senator cardin, i
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have asked them to preside for the time being because i have to go to another hearing. sen. cardin: thank you, mr. chairman. and thank you for almost a daily briefings he had for all members in the united states senate, keeping us totally informed as to the inventor -- as to the events unfolding. i contrast that to what happened during the trump years, where we were not kept informed at all about the negotiations between the trump administration and the taliban. that we had no briefing -- >> we will step away from our live coverage of the hearing for just a moment to continue our 40 year commitment to congressional coverage. we will return to secretary blinken's testimony in just a bit. the u.s. house is about to gavel in for a brief pro forma session. no vote is expected.
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[captioning made possible by the national captioning institute, inc., in cooperation with the united states house of representatives. any use of the closed-captioned coverage of the house proceedings for political or commercial purposes is expressly prohibited by the u.s. house of representatives.] the speaker pro tempore: the house will be in order. the chair lays before the house a communication from the speaker. the clerk: the speaker's room, washington, d.c., september 14, 2021. i hereby appoint the honorable john sarbanes to act as speaker pro tempore on this day. signed, nancy pelosi, speaker of the house of representatives. the speaker pro tempore: the prayer will be offered by chaplain kibben.


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