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Washington, D.C.- House Foreign Affairs Lead Republican Michael McCaul pressed Secretary of State Antony Blinken for answers on the Biden Administrations failed Afghanistan withdrawal at a full committee hearing.

On the Chaos at Kabul Airport

“We had Americans that couldn’t get out. We had interpreters that couldn’t get through the perimeter of the Taliban. They are left behind…They have a bullseye on their back.”

On Counterterrorism Threats

“I would like to work with you because if we can’t see what is happening on the ground, we can’t see the threat and we can’t respond to it. The threat is only going to grow, get worse and not better. And we have to have that capability.”

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-Questions and Answers as Delivered-

Rep. McCaul: In the weeks before the fall of Kabul, the surrender to the Taliban, I was on the phone with high-ranking officials of the State, DoD, White House trying to save lives. We had Americans that couldn’t get out. We had interpreters that couldn’t get through the perimeter of the Taliban. They are left behind. They will be executed. They have a bullseye on their back.

We had four busses of Afghan girls, orphans, at the American University school of music that sat there for 17 hours when I was finally told that the State Department would not lift the gate to let them into safety even though they had an aircraft waiting. Can you guarantee this Committee, now we are at the mercy of the Taliban that we will get them out?

Sec. Blinken: Thank you for every effort you made, as well as other members of this committee made to help people in need, to try to help them get out. Those are deeply appreciated and going forward we continue to those efforts.

Now I have men and women in my department, State Department, who raised their hands around the world to and ran into the building. They went from posts around the world into that airport. They were serving at those gates, right along side our brothers and sisters in uniform. Including the thirteen who gave their lives. literally trying to pull people in as necessary or to walk them in or talk them in. To do everything they possibly could to bring American’s citizens, to bring afghans at risk, and to bring nationals of our partners into the airport.

Rep. McCaul: And if I could, we thank the service of people like that who worked in operation pineapple and Dunkirk. I ask that the State Department work with them. Those are heroes as well as the state department officials as well.

Bagram went down. The embassy went down, and we went dark. We have no eyes and ears on the ground. We have lost intelligence capability in the region, that includes Russia, China and Iran as you know. This is a national security threat as China moves in. For all I know they may take over Bagram air base, but this over the horizon capability I believe is exaggerated, it’s not a viable option, it’s too far away. Did you negotiate with countries like Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan to put an ISR capability there?

And my last question is, is it true that President Putin threatened the President of the United States saying he could not build intelligence capabilities in the region?

Sec. Blinken: This is an important question, one that in its detail and substance need to take up in another setting for reasons I know you very much appreciate. Let me say this, and you know this given your focus and expertise on these issues. The terrorist threat has metastasized dramatically over the last 20 years, and it most acute in places like Yemen, like Libya, like Iraq, like Syria, like Somalia. And of course, we have much greater and different capabilities in 20 years ago to deal with that threat, and in many countries around the world we deal with it effectively with no US boots on the ground. We lost some capacity for sure without having those boots on the ground in Afghanistan. But we have ways, and we are actively working on that to make up for that to mitigate for that to make sure that we have eyes on the problem to see if it reemerges in Afghanistan.

Rep. McCaul: I would like to work with you because if we can’t see what happening on the ground, we can’t see the threat and we can’t respond to it. The threat is only going to grow, get worse and not better. And we have to have that capability.

Let me ask you one last question. We have these planes grounded in mazari-i-sharif, and the Taliban seems to be holding these planes up. Are you currently engaging with the Taliban in respect with these Americans trying to get out on these airplanes? And also, are you negotiating with the Taliban on the issue of legitimizing them as a real government?

Sec. Blinken: Not only us, but virtually the entire international community including a United Nations security council resolution has made clear what we expect and insisted on from the Taliban if they want legitimacy or any support. And that starts with freedom of travel. So, we have been intensely engaged with Turkey and Qatar to get the airport in Kabul up and running again, which is now the case and have started to get flights out last week with American citizens on board. And with regard to mazari-i-sharif you are correct there have been charter flight there that have been there for some time that have not been allowed to leave. We want to see those flights leave. We need to see process in place to allow those flights to start to move. And we are working on that every day.

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