US deeply engaged with India on terrorism in Afghanistan, Blinken testifies at congressional hearing

New Delhi: US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said on Monday that Washington is now “deeply engaged” with India for “over-the-horizon” capabilities to take control of Afghanistan and the new Taliban regime there.

On the first day of the congressional hearing – Afghanistan 2001-2021: withdrawal and evaluation of US policies – Blinken said the US is also engaging with India over Pakistan’s growing influence in the war-torn country.

He said the Taliban knows the consequences of harboring terrorists, especially those from Al Qaeda.

He told the bipartisan Congress Committee, “The Taliban should remember what happened last time.

He said the US would deploy “over the horizon capabilities” to detect the re-emergence of al Qaeda from Afghanistan and other terrorist groups, for which it would forge greater alliances with its allies, particularly India.

The statements come days ahead of the first bilateral meeting of US President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which is expected to take place on September 24-25.

The US and India will also meet along with Japan and Australia for the in-person quad summit in Washington DC.

Asked if India is a priority, given that it is neighboring Afghanistan while countries like Qatar and Kuwait are far away, Blinken said, “We remain deeply engaged with India across the board. With regard to any details about the Over-Horizon capabilities and plans that we have established and will continue to do, I want to take it in a different setting.

Blinken raised questions in a five-hour-long testimony to angry lawmakers, some of whom have repeatedly demanded that he resign. Republican and Democrat senators also made sharp comments on the issue at the hearing.

He is the first Biden administration official to testify publicly since the Taliban takeover.

The secretary of state told the committee that Washington had “no advance warning” about former Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fleeing the country as the situation was tense with the Taliban marching towards Kabul on August 15.

He said he spoke with Ghani just a day before Kabul fell, and was assured that the former Afghan president was working toward a power-sharing deal with the Taliban if such a deal doesn’t work out. If he does then he will “fight to the death” out.

“The next day he ran away. I had no advance warning,” Blinken said.

Defending the Joe Biden administration over the country’s withdrawal of troops, Blinken said the US president had to complete the withdrawal because he had limited options.

“Return to war or carry on the war” were the only two options the Biden administration had in Afghanistan, he said, adding that Biden had only inherited a deadline, not a concrete plan from his predecessor, Donald Trump. under which the peace agreement was reached. Taliban leaders were signed.

“Finally, we completed one of the largest airlifts in history, evacuating 124,000 people safely. And on August 31 in Kabul, the military mission in Afghanistan officially ended, and a new diplomatic mission began,” he told the bipartisan congressional committee.

He also said that UNSC resolution 2593 – passed in August under India’s month-long presidency – must be followed by the Taliban to rule Afghanistan, and also if it wants international legitimacy. The resolution demands that Afghan territory should not be used to threaten or attack any country or to harbor and train terrorists and to plan or finance terrorist attacks.

Noting that the collapse of the Afghan government as well as its security forces led to an emergency evacuation exercise by the US, Blinken said, “All year long, we were constantly assessing their (Ghani government’s) power and on multiple scenarios. were thinking. Even the most pessimistic assessment did not predict that government forces in Kabul would fall, while US forces would remain. “

After 20 years, with 2,641 Americans killed, 20,000 wounded, $2 trillion spent, it was time to end America’s longest war, Blinked said.

Expressing his concern over the interim government in Afghanistan, Blinken further said that the Taliban leaders in the new cabinet have a “very challenging track record”, referring to the fact that many of them are on the UNSC sanctions list for terrorist activities.

“The interim government designated by the Taliban falls far short of the mark set by the international community for inclusivity … and as noted it includes members who have very challenging track records.”

He said the US would only recognize a government in Afghanistan on a “permanent basis” that “advances our interests”.

Blinken was also questioned by several congressmen about US intelligence capabilities in Afghanistan and if there is any risk that it will diminish with a hasty withdrawal of troops.

“We have certainly lost some capacity in Afghanistan with no shoes on the ground, but we have ways and we are working very actively to reduce it,” he told the committee.

On allegations that the Biden administration, in a hurry to meet the August 31 withdrawal deadline, had handed over vital weapons and equipment to Taliban leaders, Blinken said, “A lot of additional equipment was handed over to (former) Afghan security.” . And the defense forces, the partners we’ve worked with for 20 years… Of course, when those forces collapsed in a span of about 11 days, some of those equipment passed into the hands of the successor forces – the Taliban.”

“Our people worked very hard to disable or destroy equipment under our control before they left Afghanistan. Most of the equipment that the Afghan forces then fell into the hands of the Taliban is inactive or will soon become inactive as it has to be maintained.

Blinken said the equipment has no strategic value in the case of the Taliban threatening the US or Afghanistan’s neighbors.