‘We did not inherit a plan’: Blinken is grilled in Congress on Afghanistan’s exit

The Taliban have agreed to deny refuge to terrorist groups as a condition of the withdrawal of the US military, which the Trump administration brokered in February 2020. But it is widely believed that Al Qaeda’s supreme leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, lives in Afghanistan. and top CIA officials, including William J. Burns, the agency’s director, have acknowledged that their ability to gather intelligence on terrorist activity there has now declined.

Prior to Mr Blinken’s testimony, the Biden administration’s top intelligence official said Afghanistan was not the most pressing terrorism threat to the United States, even after its takeover by the Taliban. Avril D. Haines, the director of national intelligence, said the withdrawal of US troops and the collapse of the US-backed government have created challenges for intelligence gathering in the country.

But, she said, “in terms of the homeland, the threat from terrorist groups, we don’t prioritize the top of the list Afghanistan.”

Her comments underlined a tenet of Mr Biden’s decision to leave: that the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan had become a distraction from more immediate threats to the United States, such as China, Russia, climate change and the coronavirus.

Given that strategy, the overall decision to withdraw from Afghanistan made “logical,” said James F. Jeffrey, a former ambassador who worked closely with Mr. Blinken and other senior officials during the Obama administration and is now chairman of the Middle. East Program at the Wilson Center, a Washington think tank.

But, said Mr Jeffrey, “the preparations for this thing, and the failure of imagination about how quickly it would happen and how complete the collapse — that’s an issue you have to point out to the administration.”

The diplomatic effort that Mr Blinken promised to continue is largely aimed at pressuring the Taliban to ensure safe passage for people who want to leave Afghanistan, and to protect Afghan women and girls who lack education and received jobs, and at worst, were mistreated when the Taliban last ruled, from 1996 to 2001. On Monday, he acknowledged that the Taliban had “failed greatly” in creating a government that includes women or ethnic minorities, as many countries have demanded.

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