Sen. Menendez Threatens to Subpoena Secretary Austin, Others Over Afghanistan

Sen. Menendez Threatens to Subpoena Secretary Austin, Others Over Afghanistan bob menendez speaks into mic Committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., questions Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on Sept. 14, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (DREW ANGERER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

By Charlie McCarthy | Tuesday, 14 September 2021 12:53 PM

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., has threatened to subpoena top Biden administration officials over the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

Menendez promised accountability in his opening statement Tuesday before Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified before the committee, Axios reported. The senator threatened to subpoena Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and other Biden officials who decline to voluntarily appear before the panel.

"Mr. Secretary, the execution of the U.S. withdrawal was clearly and fatally flawed," Menendez told Blinken.

Menendez, saying multiple administrations "lied" about the stability of the Afghan government, added that Austin's refusal to testify "will affect my personal judgment on Department of Defense nominees."

Menendez said "we know now that the Taliban had no intention of pursuing a political path and peace deal with the Afghan government."

"The administration says that we should judge the Taliban by their actions, and I agree," Menendez said, "and their actions since taking over Afghanistan have been pretty horrifying – beating women activists, murdering ethnic and religious minorities such as the Hazara, separating classrooms by gender, shutting down local media, refusal to break with al-Qaida, appointing the head of a foreign terrorist organization … to lead the ministry of interior, and the list goes on."

Blinken told the committee that the administration began planning for a "worst-case scenario" in Afghanistan in the spring and summer, and prepared for evacuating the U.S. Embassy in Kabul in 48 hours and establishing control over the airport.

The secretary declined to give the committee a copy of a July 13 State Department dissent cable that warned of the imminent collapse of the Afghan government soon after the U.S. withdrawal.

"[Such messages are] only to be shared with senior officials in the department," Blinken said.

The State Department is "still tabulating" the number of Special Immigrant Visa applicants stranded in Afghanistan, said Blinken, who added the agency increased resources this spring to reduce backlogs in the program.

Blinken also testified virtually for more than five hours Monday before the House Armed Services Committee. Republican members of the committee called on the secretary to resign after the disastrous withdrawal.

"We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan," said Blinken, repeatedly blaming former President Donald Trump for forcing the Biden administration's hand.

Blinken describe the evacuation effort as "extraordinary" despite the fact about 100 U.S. citizens and possibly "thousands" of green card holders remain in the country.

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