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Secretary Of State Blinken To Testify Before U.S. House Panel On Afghanistan

NOEL KING, HOST:

Lawmakers will question Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan this week. He'll appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee today and then tomorrow, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Representative Chrissy Houlahan is with us now. She's a Democrat from Pennsylvania and a veteran of the U.S. Air Force. She's one of the people who will be questioning Blinken today. Good morning, Representative Houlahan. Thanks for being here.

CHRISSY HOULAHAN: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

KING: You've been very critical of the Biden administration's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan. What do you want to ask Secretary Blinken?

HOULAHAN: So there's quite a few questions that I'm hoping that we'll be hearing in our questioning today. And importantly, this is - a part of, you know, Congress' responsibility is oversight. Some I'm, first of all, grateful that Secretary Blinken is coming and hopeful that we'll be able to get to the bottom of some of the many questions that we have in a civil and decent manner, rather than in kind of a mudslinging manner, which is unfortunately what I anticipate.

Some of the questions that I'm really interested in is the decision to close Bagram. I'm interested in understanding that a little bit better. I'm also looking to understand what we've left behind, in terms of equipment, what our timeline logic was. Those are some of the questions that I know that I'm interested in. And I'm sure my colleagues have other questions. Importantly, this is a 20-year conversation that we're having today, not just a two- or three-week conversation.

KING: Yeah, that's an interesting point. Your Republican colleague, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, spoke on CBS' "Face The Nation" yesterday. Here's what he had to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ADAM KINZINGER: That's what the American people want, is somebody to stand up and say, look, this is on me. But in the case of the secretary of state, when we began to see the collapse of the Afghan military - when we began to see that fall apart, that's when the order should have been given to basically enter a defensive posture, get everybody out we can.

KING: You said you wanted to know about some of the logistical decisions that were made and some of the things that have been left behind. Are you interested in this hearing at getting at who is to blame for the chaotic way in which the evacuation unfolded?

HOULAHAN: You know, I think that there - in Washington, as with everywhere else, there are lots of people, I would say, who we can point fingers at and we can blame. And as I mentioned, this is a very, very long timeline leading up until this. That's not to say that there aren't people who certainly have more responsibility than others. And I am certainly interested in understanding that.

But I think that's one of the things that we need to be careful of, is I think the American people frankly just want to understand what's happening, why decisions were made, you know, what - where we can trace those decisions to and how we can frankly continue in - out of this 20-year war in a better place, how we can continue to get people out who are still there, what we can do about the equipment that we have left behind. You know, here is where we are. And we need to be asking - getting answers to these questions. But we also need to be moving forward.

KING: Who else do you want to question, or who do you think the American public needs to hear from about this?

HOULAHAN: Well, I am fortunate to serve on the Foreign Affairs and the Armed Services Committee. And so I would like very much also to speak with Secretary Austin as well, of - from the DOD. And I'm hopeful that we'll be able to have that opportunity on the HASC side - on the Armed Services side as well. And we will see. You know, I've been fortunate in the early days of this administration that both of those administration officials have stood in front of the Congress, which is something that is unfortunately not terribly usual. We really need to have accountability with our administration, no matter who's in the White House. And I'm thankful that they are coming in front of us - wishful, hopeful that they will stay longer than they are currently planned for, which with Secretary Blinken is only three hours, which is frankly not enough time for everyone to have an opportunity to ask a question.

KING: What do you want to ask Secretary Austin?

HOULAHAN: I would like to understand some of his decisions, given, you know, what I think was an order from the commander in chief to execute to a certain timeline and to a certain strategy, why we made decisions like closing the Bagram base, why we, you know, kind of moved forward in not even telegraphing but being very vocal about our timelines, which I found to be a very interesting and possibly destructive strategy. And so those were - similar questions that I would ask of Blinken, frankly, I would ask of him as well.

KING: Intelligence officials are predicting that al-Qaida could reconstitute in Afghanistan in as few as 12 months. Are there questions that you have for Secretary Blinken about this and about whether the Biden administration - or to what degree the Biden administration has an obligation to explain to Congress how they're going to keep Americans safe from terrorist threats?

HOULAHAN: Yes. I believe that that is, you know, the open source intelligence that you're sharing with us right now. But I also think that there are places all around the globe, frankly, where that is the case. And part of the, you know, reason behind us leaving Afghanistan is a rising threat in other parts of the world that we need to be attentive to as well. So we do need to have a robust intelligence machine that is providing us information to keep us safe all over the world and not just in places like Afghanistan.

KING: Lastly, what are you hearing from fellow veterans and active duty service members about the U.S. leaving Afghanistan?

HOULAHAN: So I think it's a mix of emotions. And people understandably are enormously conflicted on their feelings over the last 20 years or so. I'm fortunate to serve with a lot of people who have veteran backgrounds in the Congress. And I think they are conflicted. But I think if I could say one thing to the veterans out there - is that your service matters. I'm a veteran. And my father and grandfather and family are as well. And you have done enormous things to protect this nation. And I'm deeply grateful. And the nation is as well.

KING: Representative Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania. She sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Thank you for being with us this morning.

HOULAHAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.