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At This Hour
Blinken: Roughly $80B Worth of Military Equipment Now in Taliban Hands. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired September 14, 2021 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): The mistakes made by previous administrations, we've talked about it, but I think we need to understand that many of us did not support the 2002 campaign to go into Iraq. And one of those reasons was that we wanted to complete the mission in Afghanistan when we had the chance to do it when the Taliban was diminished after our military came in after the attack on our country.
But instead we went into Iraq, which was not engaged in the 9/11 activities and we never finished Afghanistan. A mistake made by the Bush administration. And we've already talked about the Trump administration and setting a deadline and releasing prisoners and moving forward with the reduction of troops, when there was really very little options that the administration had.
It doesn't negate the information that was made available to you about the strength of the Afghan security forces and the Ghani administration's will to stick with it in Afghanistan. And I think many of us are interested in knowing how intelligence got that so wrong, and the contingency plans are ones that we really do want to review because it seems to us there had to be better ways to sec ire passage into the airport than what ultimately happened.
But considering the hand that you were dealt, considering the crisis that developed, evacuating 124,000 was a miraculous task. So we congratulate all that were involved in the evacuation of so many people under such a short period of time under such difficult circumstances.
I want to get to where we are today. During this process, the state department was very open to all members of congress, Democrats, Republicans, as we filtered information into you about vulnerable people in an effort to get them out of Afghanistan. Today our offices are still being deluged by requests to help people that are in Afghanistan and NGOs are working aggressively.
Can you share us with the process that you're using in order to filter information about Americans that are still in Afghanistan who want to leave, that applies for SIV status and those at risk, how do we transmit that information and what is process is in place so that we could try to get these people out of Afghanistan. ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Yes, thank you, Senator.
As I noted, we've established a task force focused entirely on relocation. To help those who wish to leave Afghanistan, whether they're any remaining American citizens, whether it is SIV applicants, whether it is Afghans at risk, whether it is the nationals of a partner countries get out, and that involves a number of things. It involves for the American citizens, case management teams, 500 individuals whose task is to be in constant contact with any remaining American citizens who wish to leave and that is what they're doing.
It also includes together with our legislative affairs office, being in constant contact with you, as well as with outside groups who have identified and are trying to help people who seek to leave.
This here is the sum total of cases brought to us by members of this committee, just this committee that all of you or many you have been working and we are deeply grateful for those efforts, for this information. It ensures that when you send us the information, we put it into our data base, if it is not already there. We make sure that we are able to track it and make sure we're able to coordinate with you. And I recognize that especially in the early going, during the evacuation itself, some of the feedback was lacking.
We're trying to do all of this in real-time, making sure that we took in the information that you were providing and acting on it and in some cases we didn't get back to people to say here is what we've done. And we've been working to make sure that we get back to everyone. I think we had 26,000 inquiries from Congress. We've responded to 21,000 or 22,000 of them.
CARDIN: So you still have the categories of reporters that work for us that are still in Afghanistan. We have women officials that were officials in Afghanistan, that are at risk, we have NGOs that works with us in Afghanistan. They're employees that are at risk.
BLINKEN: That is right.
CARDIN: So you're saying we still have an opportunity to work with you to get that information to the sources that you're using to try to arrange for their exit from Afghanistan.
BLINKEN: Yes. Absolutely. And we very much invite that and we want to make sure that we have as best as possible a unified coordinated list so that we know what everyone is working on and we can track and we can help or we can take on depending on the --
CARDIN: Could I get your best guess on the numbers? At one point when we started we thought there might be somewhere around a little less tan 100,000 U.S. citizens, SIVs and Afghans that wanted to leave. That number is already low.
We've already evacuated over 124,000. Do we know how many U.S. citizens are in Afghanistan that want to exit today, how many are in SIV status that want to exit and how many Afghans at risk we want to help?
BLINKEN: On the American citizens who wish to leave, the number is about 100. And it is very hard to give a real-time number at any given moment because it is very fluid by which I mean this -- some people and we're in direct contact with this group, some for very understandable reasons are changing their mind from day-to-day about whether or not they want to leave. Others continue even now to raise their hands and say I'm an American citizen in Afghanistan, someone who had not identified themselves before.
And again as I think you know very, very well, we do not require as a country our citizens to register or identify themselves to our embassies in any country in the world when they travel there or if they reside there.
CARDIN: And do you have the numbers for SIV and for --
BLINKEN: So the SIV numbers, that we're tabulating right now because we're trying to account for every one who has come in. Some people remain in transit countries. Other people are now in the United States. We're putting all of those numbers together to determine -- the overwhelming majority of Afghans who have come out of Afghanistan thanks to our evacuation efforts are in one way or another Afghans at risk. Some will be SIV applicants and others will be P-1 or P-2 or Afghans at risk. We're breaking down the numbers and we should have a break down in the next couple of weeks.
CARDIN: Thank you. Looking forward to seeing that.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL): Thank you.
Mr. Secretary, in your statement, I think the most troubling thing is the following quote from you, even the most pessimistic assessment did not predict the government forces in Kabul would collapse while U.S. forces remained, and backed that up by saying you also cite General Milley who said there was no indication that there would be a rapid collapse of the Afghan army and government.
You know, for much of last year, I was the acting chairman of intelligence. I'm now the vice chairman of intelligence. I've been tracking this very, very closely.
And just going back to the beginning of this year, I could just -- obviously, I can't quote the titles of pieces but let me suffice it to say there will numerous pieces that will be categorized as it is going to hit the fan.
But let's just for a moment, let's put that aside. Because I think any analysis of those pieces would have led nip to that conclusion. Putting that aside for a moment, we have every reason, we had every reason to believe and to plan for the rapid of the Afghan military and the Afghan government.
At the beginning of 2020, by all admissions, we had a really -- already really bad status quo in Afghanistan, OK? We had a small footprint but we had a strong commitment to air support and that sustained the Afghan security forces ability to resist the Taliban. The security forces in Afghanistan were suffering the 10,000 casualties a year. The Taliban was suffering casualties too. But they enjoyed safe haven in Pakistan. They were able to go there to rest, to refit and to train and to recruit.
So, and in summary, we had a terrible status quo. Security forces, small number of U.S. forces continued to die, we have U.S. losses as well, I want to mention that. But the Afghan government was still fractious and corrupt and the Taliban had unchallenged safe haven in Pakistan. Or put another way, in paraphrasing your own words from your opening statement, if after 20 years and hundreds of billion dollars of dollars in support, equipment and training, there is not enough for the Afghan government to become more resilience or self-sustained, what do we think is going to happen as that support began to be removed?
What do think we think was going to happen when the terrible status quo was changed? It doesn't stake in exquisite piece of intelligence or some brilliant analysis to conclude that if you radically change an already bad status quo by removing U.S. and NATO forces by enabling air support, that the status quo was going to collapse in favor of the Taliban.
This is not an argument in favor of staying. I think that ship has sailed. We know a lot of time has been spent on justifying the withdrawal.
We're not debating the withdrawal. What I'm arguing is, we had a terrible status quo as is, by your own admission, and the Afghan government after billions of dollars in 20 years, and was not self- sustaining, was not resilient, we should have known that as we begin to draw down support, we were going to see the potential for a collapse and that is what all of these pieces pointed to as well.
So, it's concerning that no one saw all of this and concluded that there was no evidence or no reason to believe that there could be a rapid collapse. More to that point, we began to seek clear signs weeks ago that this is where it was headed. Without air strikes, the Taliban now began to mass and maneuver going from intimidating the small Afghan outposts, to actually getting them into -- we were seeing Afghan outposts beginning to quit. They went from surrounding the small provincial capitals to surrounding major cities, with 5,000 to 8,000 Taliban fighters. This is weeks before.
By the way, this is at same time as I believe on July 8th, President Biden was still giving this naive optimistic prediction about the fighting capabilities of the Afghan forces and so forth. We could see them meticulously focused on the north. We could see that they were methodically and carefully splintering the sclerotic remains of any sort of resistance, weeks before the fall of Kabul. You could see the Taliban was on the verge, was headed towards doing something they hadn't done before. They were going to isolate Kabul from the north, cutting off all of
their supply routes. So we knew weeks before -- we knew weeks before that we were headed for a Taliban controlled north, all of the traditional routes of Taliban encroachment on Kabul were nearly sealed, the south and the east, and Kabul faced the prospect of no fuel. The Afghan government faced the prospect of being unable to mount any viable opposition and sustained defense.
What did we think was going to happen? All of those things were in place at the time. And I think the most concerning part of it if we didn't have an analysis that looked at all of this, this wasn't a failure of analysis or this was a failure of policy and planning. We have the wrong people analyzing this. Someone didn't see this or didn't want to see this because we've established this that we want the to be out by September 11th so that we could have some ceremony arguing that we got and we pulled out of Afghanistan on the anniversary of 9/11.
The fact of the matter is where it leaves us now on top of the other things mentioned here from a geopolitical perspective is not a good place. I think China and Russia and Iran, they look at this botched withdrawal and what they see as incompetence that they think they might be able to exploit and lead to miscalculation. I think the Europeans, our allies who have very little say if any or control over the timing or execution over this, they have to wonder about our reliability, our credibility of our defense agreements with them.
But they also have to be really, really upset at the prospects of a massive refugee crisis landing right on their borders here very soon. And India, I know that there's an announcement today, there'd be a meeting of Quad fairly soon which is a good development, except that in the Pacific region, if you're India, you're looking at this and saying if the United States allowed Pakistan to unravel their standing, the Pakistani role in all of this and I think multiple administrations are guilty of ignoring it, the Pakistani role in enabling the Taliban is ultimately a victory for those pro-Taliban hardliners in the Pakistani government, they have to be looking at this and saying if the United States could have a third rate power like Pakistan unravel its aims, what chance do they have of confronting China?
So I think this leaves us in a terrible situation. But I go back to the initial point. I don't know how it's impossible. If in fact the people in charge of our foreign policy did not see all of these factors and conclude that there was a very real possibility of a very rapid collapse, then we've got the wrong people making military and diplomacy decisions in our government.
BLINKEN: Senator, I'll respond briefly in the time that we have. As you know, from your own expertise and leadership on these matters, there are constant assessments being done and in this particular case, assessments being done of the resilience of app began security forces, of the Afghan government and different scenarios established from worse case to best case to everything in between.
And ultimately, the preponderance of the intelligence and assessment land someplace. And they're always going to be voices and critically important that we listen to all of them who may be talking about exclusively the worst case, some best case, some in between.
Here is what I could say in this setting. And we could take this up as well in other settings.
Back in February, the assessment of the overall assessment of the community was that after a complete U.S. military withdrawal, that could potentially in the worst case scenario lead to the Taliban capturing Kabul within a year or two. So that is back in February. And that was more or less where things stood in the winter and into the spring.
By July, and you're exactly right, that the situation was deteriorating as the Taliban continues to make progress on the ground throughout the summer. In July, the IC indicated it was more likely than not that the Taliban would take over by the end of the year, the end of this year. That said, we, the intelligence community, did not say that the country wide collapse of all meaningful resistance would likely to occur in the matter of days and you referenced Chairman Milley as I did earlier. Nothing that I saw, that I saw, that we saw suggested that this government and security force would collapse in a matter of 11 days.
And you're right that I think we need to look back at all of this. Because to your point, we collectively over 20 years invested extraordinary amounts in those security forces and in that government. Hundreds of billions of dollars, equipment and training and advice, support. And based on that, as well as based on what we were looking at real-time, again, we did not see this collapse in a matter of 11 days. But it is important that we go back and look at all of this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The time has expired.
BLINKEN: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Shaheen.
SEN. JEANNE SHAHEEN (D-NH): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
And thank you, Secretary Blinken, for appearing for the committee today. I appreciate and share the frustration of my colleagues over the challenges with the evacuation, over the situation of special immigrant visa applicants and the Taliban treatment of women and girls and other minorities. But I also agree that assessment and given by several others that where we were when we got that that evacuation was because of the failure of both Democratic and Republican administrations.
And I want to know where that outrage was when year after year for ten years starting with Senator McCain, I and others in the Senate tried to get more special immigrant visa applicants through the process so that they could leave Afghanistan, leave the threat and come to the United States. And there were a few Republicans in the Senate who blocked us year after year from getting more SIV applicants to the United States.
And I want to know where that outrage was during the negotiations by the Trump administration and former Secretary Pompeo when they were giving away the rights of women and girls and when Secretary Pompeo came before this committee and blew off questions about what they were doing to pressure the Taliban to have women at the negotiating table for that peace treaty.
So I think there is a lot of regret and a lot of recriminations to go around and the important thing for us to do now is to figure out how we could work together to address those people who still need to be evacuated from Afghanistan, and also to ensure that we could do everything possible with the international community to help protect the human rights of the women and girls who remain in the country and those minorities.
So, Mr. Secretary, that is where I'm going to put my effort. I do think we need an accounting. That is important for history and for us going forward.
But let's stop with the hypocrisy about who is to blame. There are a lot of people to blame. And we all share in it.
Now, Mr. Secretary, as you know, I was one of those who was opposed to our withdrawing from Afghanistan. I'm not going to revisit that. But a lot of my concerns were around the rights of women and girls if Afghanistan fell into the hands of the Taliban.
So I want to ask you now and you've been very specific on briefing calls that you share the concern and I recognize that you believe it is a priority for this administration to do what you can to protect the rights of women and girls. So you could talk specifically about what steps the department is taking to provide for the safety of women and girls and how we're trying to rally the international community behind that effort.
BLINKEN: Yes. Thank you, Senator. And let me start by thanking you personally for your leadership for a long time now on these issues. Both on the SIVs, and the work that we've actually been able to do to try to improve the program but more work needs to be done, as well, of course, as on women and girls, from, you know, advancing women peace and security, and that agenda, to ensuring that there is an equal playing field for women and girls.
You made a huge difference.
And I have to say over the last 20 years, we have made a difference, collectively in Afghanistan. And possibly the biggest difference we made was for women and girls. Access to education. Access to health care. Access to work opportunity.
All of that was as a result of many of the efforts that we made and that this Congress made and supported including with very, very significant assistance. This is -- this is hard. I was in Kabul after the president announced
his decision. I met with women leaders from the then parliament and NGOs, a lawyer, a human rights defenders and listen and heard from them about their concerns about the future.
Just the past couple of weeks when I was out in Doha and then in Ramstein, I talked to a young woman and girls that we evacuated and heard from both of them. Both of their gratitude for having been evacuated but also deep concerns -- more than deep concerns about the future for the women and girls who remain in Afghanistan.
So, with that very much in mind, we have done a few things and this is where we really want to work closely with you and with every member. One, we've worked to rally the international community to set very clear expectations of the Taliban going forward. To include the expectation that it will uphold the basic rights of women and girls as well as minorities.
And that's visible in the statement that more than 100 countries have signed in our initiative. And it is also in a U.S. Security Council that we initiated and got passed. I know people say it is a statement or a Security Council resolution and it doesn't matter.
Well, in the case of the Security Council resolution, just to site one example, there are significant sanctions that from the United Nations on the Taliban. There are travel restrictions on the Taliban and if the Taliban is in violation of the Security Council resolution that we established, it will get any relief just on that alone. The U.N. sanctions or travel restrictions, I think that is pretty clear that that won't happen. That is just one point of leverage.
We've been working to make sure that the international community speaks with one voice and acts together including on this. That's one.
Second, we want to make sure that assistance continues to flow. Humanitarian assistance including assistance directed at the special needs of women and girls. We're doing that consistently with our sanctions and able to do that by working through NGOs and the U.N. agencies.
Now, I don't want to sugar coat this because we know that while the Taliban seeks and will probably support and protect basic humanitarian assistance through these agencies, like for food and medicine, it may be a different story when it comes to things that are directed specifically at women and girls. So we're going to be very focused on that, and trying to make sure that that assistance can go through, that it is monitored and effectively and including by the agencies doing it and I spent some time talking with the head of the United Nations effort on this in terms of having a clear monitoring mechanism for this and to carry that forward.
Next, we will soon appoint at my direction a senior official responsible for focusing all of our efforts on support for women, girls and minorities in Afghanistan. I think it is very important that we have a focal point in the U.S. government at the State Department who is responsible to carry forward this agenda working closely with you in the weeks and months ahead.
SHAHEEN: Well, thank you very much. I'm out of time but can you share with us who that official is as soon as they're appointed.
BLINKEN: Yes, of course.
SHAHEEN: Thank you.
BLINKEN: Thank you, Senator.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Johnson?
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Secretary, if I were just to read your testimony, not having watched any news, I would literally think this was a smashing success. But I do read the news as most Americans do and we realize this is a complete debacle.
And I think what concerns me the most among many things is the detachment from reality. The same denial reality on the border, a self-inflicted wound, a crisis created by President Biden's policies that have completely thrown open our borders and yet the administration denies that we have a problem at the border.
So, let -- so I have a number of questions. First of all, approximately what is the dollar value of the equipment that has been left behind that now the Taliban controls? What is the dollar value of that?
BLINKEN: Senator, I believe the equipment provided over the last 20 -- well 15 years was about $80 billion. Of that equipment that remains as you know it was given -- to the Afghan security force and of course so that is now in the hands of the Taliban.
JOHNSON: So I was also struck by your comment that -- in your testimony that even the most pessimistic assessment didn't predict that the government would collapse as quickly as it did. But you just in your testimony said that the realistic predictions before the complete withdrawal was that it would collapse by the end of the year.
So the administration continued with their plans of withdrawal, of evacuation, of surrender, knowing that Taliban would be in control of $80 billion worth of sophisticated equipment at the end of that, correct? I mean, did that -- that discussion come up in terms of maybe that wouldn't be a good idea leaving all of that equipment behind as we bug out of Afghanistan?
BLINKEN: That is that assessment came in July. Much of the equipment and again I'll defer to my colleagues at the Pentagon who are more expert in this than I am, much of that equipment was made inoperable. Other pieces of equipment will become inoperable because there is no ability on the part of the Taliban to maintain it.
None of it to the best of knowledge poses a strategic threat to us or to any of Afghanistan's neighbors. What we're looking at -- (CROSSTALK)
JOHNSON: OK. So we have an oversight letter, we'd like response on that.
Let's talk about the decision to close down Bagram. I mean, the president said this is unanimously decided by the military. But isn't it true that the president decided what the troop level would be, a very minimal troop level. The president decided that we could keep the embassy open and had to be protected. He forced the military's hands, right? In the end, it was his decision. It wasn't military's decision to close Bagram.
BLINKEN: The president makes the strategic decisions when it comes to the actual draw down, the retrograde to use the technical language, those were decisions made by his military commanders. He sought their best advice and that is what was carried out, including the timing of the decision to --
JOHNSON: Another troubling piece of your testimony, he said when the president announced the withdrawal, NATO immediately, unanimously embraced it.
Josep Borrell, the foreign affairs chief of the European Union, his statement on the surrender is that it is, quote, a catastrophe for the Afghan people, for Western values and the credibility and the developing of international relations. "The Wall Street Journal" summarizes it quite nicely in their piece just the title, how Biden broke NATO.
The chaotic Afghan withdrawal has shocked and angered U.S. allies.
Again, that's detachment from reality that our NATO allies are on board with this thing. They're not.
BLINKEN: Senator --
JOHNSON: That's not what we're hearing.
BLINKEN: Senator, I went to NATO well before the president's decision and as well as Secretary of Defense Austin and spent the day with all of our NATO allies, listening to them, their views, their prescriptions, their ideas for what they should do moving forward in Afghanistan. I share some of our initial thinking at that point. We factor in everything into our own decision making process.
JOHNSON: Just like you planned for every -- like you planned for every contingency. OK, I got it.
BLINKEN: If I could continue.
JOHNSON: Listen, it's bureaucratic speak.
I have some questions. So, again, my concern is the detachment from reality. So as we surrendered, as we're evacuating and we're bugging out, we're hearing all of these soothing comments from the administration, this is almost like a well-oiled machine here. We have flights just leaving and 124,000 people being evacuated.
We heard something completely different. So, tell me what is wrong about what I heard.
First of all, prior to the Taliban providing perimeter security, there was no security and basically tens of thousands of Afghanis flooded into the Kabul airport, correct?
BLINKEN: There was security around the airport established --
JOHNSON: But we literally have tens of people, we did not know who these people were. It wasn't like people we invited, special immigrant visa holders.
BLINKEN: Not control the city.