Washington, D.C. – Today, Representative Gregory W. Meeks, Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening remarks at a hearing entitled “Afghanistan 2001- 2021: Evaluating the Withdrawal and U.S. Policies – Part 1,” featuring testimony by Secretary of State Antony Blinken:
“Pursuant to notice, we meet today to evaluate the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan and the series of policies from the past 20 years that led to the events of August 2021. Mr. Secretary, it is good to have you back here before our Committee, a third time since you’ve been Secretary. Thank you, we appreciate your recognition of the important role this legislative body plays in conducting oversight on the executive.
“I wanted to start off today citing some numbers. 800,000: that’s the number of Americans who served with the U.S. military in Afghanistan since 2001.
“2,461:that’s the number of American military personnel who died in Afghanistan, including the 13 brave Americans who were killed facilitating the evacuation of 124,000 people over the course of 17 days.
“66,000: the number of Afghan National Security Forces killed in the conflict.
“47,245: that’s the number of Afghan civilians killed since 2001.
“Twenty: that’s the number of years we have been fighting in Afghanistan. A war that has gone on for almost 20 years is a disaster. Disentangling ourselves from the war in Afghanistan was never going to be easy.
"And for my friends who presume a clean solution for the withdrawal existed, I would welcome hearing what exactly a smooth withdrawal from a messy, chaotic, 20-year war looks like.
“In fact, I have yet to hear the clean withdrawal option, because I don’t believe one exists.
“Now are there things the Administration could have done differently? Absolutely, yes. As always, foremost for me is for the State Department to evaluate how it can better evacuate Americans when events unravel quickly.
“I look forward to hearing from the Secretary how the State Department intends to complete its evacuation of the 100-200 Americans remaining in Afghanistan who want to come home, as well as for evacuating those Afghans who worked alongside us during the past twenty years.
“However, it’s important to separate fair criticism from criticism that isn’t made in good faith and divorced from the realities on the ground in Afghanistan. We have heard some criticize the decision to close Bagram, which they claim would have been better suited for evacuations. As though it would have been easier to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from an airfield 40 miles outside of Kabul.
“Others criticize the decision to not keep a small counter-terrorism force in the country. I ask where was this protest when the Trump Administration sidelined the Afghan government in order to cut a deal with the Taliban?
“Where was the protest when the Trump Administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban, just one month after the abduction of Navy Veteran Mark Frerichs?
“Where was this protest when then-President Trump and Secretary Pompeo agreed to withdraw ALL troops by May of 2021?
“Let me remind everyone that Trump’s deal forced the Afghan government to release 5000 prisoners and offered international legitimacy to the Taliban; it was a deal that failed to require the Taliban to separate from al-Qaeda terrorists and did not require the Taliban to stop attacking the Afghan government. The deal altered the political order of the country.
“Some may say Trump’s agreement was “conditions based,” that it was different, that it came with stronger conditions, but that is simply not true.
“The choice before President Biden was between a full withdrawal and the surging of thousands of Americans to Afghanistan for an undefined time. To argue that there was a third option, a limited troop presence where the safety of our personnel could be preserved, in my mind, is a fantasy. Had we not removed American troops from Afghanistan, we would’ve left them in the middle of a rapidly deteriorating warzone, with no assurances they would be spared by the Taliban.
“It strikes me that many of those critical of the Administration’s evacuation efforts are really just angry that the President made good on his pledge to end America’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan. They are masking their displeasure with criticisms but fail to offer feasible alternatives. Once again, we are seeing domestic politics injected into foreign policy
“The Taliban’s quick takeover of provinces; Afghan security forces laying down their arms; and President Ghani’s abrupt departure from the country he led -- Watching 20 years of effort crumble in only a matter of days has made it all the more clear that we could no longer occupy Afghanistan and that the President’s decision to bring our troops home was the right one.
“And for me, closing this chapter of the U.S.-Afghanistan book is a difficult one. I voted to authorize the war in 2001, after the terrorist attack on September the 11th. In the twenty years since, I’ve seen how this conflict cost the lives of countless Americans, Afghans, and our NATO partners. What makes this all the more difficult is this is a war that should have ended 19 years ago with a different outcome, but our hubris, our own desire to remake Afghanistan, our own unwillingness to negotiate, got in the way of that victory. These are hard truths. But only by examining these hard truths will we be able to understand what went wrong in Afghanistan.
“The task before us, on this committee, one that I’m committed to making, will explore the past twenty years. We’ll be talking to individuals from the Bush administration, from the Obama administration, from the Trump administration, as well as the Biden administration.”