Senators seeking answers on Afghanistan express frustration with Biden administration
Drew Angerer/AP

Senators seeking answers on Afghanistan express frustration with Biden administration

Senate Republicans and Democrats expressed deep frustration with the Biden administration Tuesday, complaining that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is the only official to testify on the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as both sides tried to lay blame for the chaotic exit.

Blinken, appearing a day after testifying before a House committee for more than six hours, again fielded questions about why the administration was unprepared for the Afghan army’s sudden collapse; why planning to evacuate American citizens and vulnerable Afghans didn’t happen sooner; and who made the decisions that resulted in the frenzied scenes broadcast from Kabul airport as thousands tried to flee the Taliban.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle questioned why the Biden administration wouldn’t make Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin available to answer questions, an absence that led Democratic chairman Robert Menendez to threaten to reconsider Pentagon nominees and issue subpoenas for Austin and others.

‘Very disappointed’

“I’m very disappointed that Secretary Austin declined our request to testify today,” Menendez said. “A full accounting of the US response to this crisis is not complete without the Pentagon especially when it comes to understanding the complete collapse of the US trained and funded Afghan military.

“His decision not to appear before the committee will affect my personal judgement on Department of Defense nominees,” Menendez went on. “I expect the Secretary will avail himself to the committee in the near future, and if he does not, I may consider the use of committee subpoena power to compel him and others over the course of these last 20 years to testify.”

The ranking Republican on the committee, Sen. James Risch, said he was “disappointed that some of your colleagues have declined to testify, particularly Secretary Austin. There’s questions that we really need to have answered, and it’s disheartening that they declined to testify.”

A source familiar told CNN that Austin’s move to decline the invitation from the Foreign Relations committee frustrated both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Austin is set to testify before the Armed Services committee later this month, which may explain why he declined this invitation.

The source familiar also told CNN that Tuesday’s Foreign Relations hearing was meant to be a serious examination of what went wrong and what steps the administration took or should have taken to improve the situation they inherited from the Trump administration. The aide told CNN that while Democrats won’t be shielding Blinken, they will be clear eyed about what the Biden administration could actually control.

“They aren’t going to lay 20 years of problems in Afghanistan at Biden’s feet,” the aide said.

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