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Rounds Presses Secretary of State on Lack of Strategy in Afghanistan Withdrawal Decision, Pushes for Plan Moving Forward

WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, pressed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on the lack of strategy in the decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan. When pressed by Senator Rounds, Secretary Blinken failed to provide insight into the United States’ strategy to combat adversaries and uphold American interests abroad. Rounds also requested a classified briefing with the Secretary of State to gain a better understanding of the department’s plans. Watch Senator Rounds’ questioning here.

Excerpts from today’s hearing below:

ROUNDS: Our adversaries, Mr. Secretary, are celebrating the departure of U.S. troops, and they are most certainly celebrating the creation of a power vacuum. Most certainly they are also prepared to take this opportunity and use it to their advantage. China has announced last week that it will send $31 million worth of aid to Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. There have also been reports that they are looking at Bagram Air Base for their own use. The Russian Embassy in Afghanistan has remained opened and the ambassador met with Taliban leadership after the takeover. Pakistan is considering the Taliban government as a partner to counter India, and the Iranian president openly called this an “American military defeat” and is considering working with the Taliban. Did the Administration consider all of these foreign policy implications before such an abrupt withdrawal? And, if they did, does the Department [of State] have a strategy to counter our adversaries malign influence in the region?

BLINKEN: We certainly did. We factored everything into the decisions we made, including the impact it might have on the neighboring countries, regional countries and others with various interests in Afghanistan. A number of the countries that you cited have a whole series of different interests in Afghanistan, to include making sure that it is not a place for terrorism directed against them, to ensure that it is not a source of drugs flowing out into their countries, to make sure that it is not a source of potential refugees flowing out into their country as well. So all of those things are in play and countries are looking to take steps that they need to take to protect some of their basic interests. At the same time, we’ve established, across more than one hundred countries and in the UN through a security council resolution, basic expectations of the Taliban-led government. And if those expectations are not met—and other countries and aiding and abetting so that the Taliban is able to not fulfill those expectations—there will be consequences for that too.

ROUNDS: Well, Mr. Secretary if I could, what I’m really curious about is do you have a strategy you’ve established? Did you have enough time before this withdrawal to actually establish a strategy knowing there would be a void in Afghanistan?

BLINKEN: The work that we’ve done to bring together, across dozens of countries, very active contact groups, looking as we work together across these countries with NATO, the EU as well as the UN. We have a collective strategy on the way forward…

ROUNDS: Does our country—do we have a strategy? If this has been laid out, and based on the need to move out as quickly as we did, did you have time to actually establish a strategy to take care of what will be this power void? Simply to say that you’re working on it with other countries looks to me that we need our own strategy here. And it doesn’t sound like you’re in a position to share with us that that strategy exists today.

BLINKEN: I’m happy, Senator, to follow up with you…but we have organized several dozen countries that are collectively working on and implementing a strategy…

ROUNDS: What I hope is that, if you would, whether it be in a classified setting or publicly, if you could share with us in a week to ten days, what that strategy is, and if it needs to be in a classified setting, I’d ask the chairman [of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations] to provide us with that opportunity but most certainly I think it’s important that we have a strategy to combat what will be a void in Afghanistan, which is a void now, and most certainly something that we should be in a better position, I believe, than what it sounds like you’re able to articulate today.


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