Blinken Orders Afghan Evacuation Reviews by the State Department
(Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Antony Blinken has ordered internal reviews of the U.S. evacuation from Afghanistan, after the Biden administration came under sharp criticism for leaving hundreds of Americans and thousands of Afghan allies behind in the chaotic rush to get out as the Taliban took power.
“We will not let this opportunity to learn and do better pass us by,” Blinken said Wednesday in a speech focused on modernizing the State Department. “Now we owe it to ourselves, to our Afghan friends and partners and to future State Department employees who might find themselves facing a similar challenge one day to capture all that we learned, study it, apply it and preserve it.”
Blinken didn’t detail what the reviews would look like, and a State Department spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
But the department -- and President Joe Biden’s administration more broadly -- was widely seen as having botched the withdrawal, which saw the U.S. struggle to evacuate its diplomats, citizens and thousands of Afghans in the days after Taliban fighters seized control of the capital, Kabul, in August. Biden reneged on a commitment to keep U.S. troops there until every American was able to escape, and the administration is still trying to figure out how to withdraw several dozen U.S. citizens.
The U.S. is also slowly working through a backlog of visa applications for thousands of Afghans who are deemed under threat for having worked with the U.S. as translators and in other jobs over the course of the 20-year conflict. Dozens of aid groups, humanitarian organizations and private citizens have also organized flights to help people escape.
In addition, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees are being housed on American military bases.
Images of Afghans desperately clinging to U.S. military aircraft as they departed Kabul and the deaths of 13 U.S. service members in a suicide bombing added to the chaos and contributed to Biden’s plunging popularity in August. Several Republican members of Congress have since demanded that Blinken resign given the way the operation was handled.
In Wednesday’s speech, Blinken acknowledged that the operation was “incredibly difficult.”
“And there are so many things that now -- looking back -- we can ask: ‘Could we have done that step differently? Should we have tried that idea first?’ ‘Could we have gotten to that decision more quickly?”’ Blinken said. “We learned a lot in a short period of time -- and we learned it the hard way. We learned by doing.”
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