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Does Senate Testimony On Afghanistan Withdrawal Offer Clarity — Or Frustrations?

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Lawmakers continue pressing for answers on the messy U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. After one Senate panel grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken in public, another put questions to Army General Austin Scott Miller, the final commander of the war in Afghanistan. The hearing was behind closed doors. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut was among those at the hearing. He joins us now.

Welcome, Senator.

RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: Thank you very much for having me, Ailsa. Good to be with you.

CHANG: Good to have you. So I know that you cannot share any details exactly about what was asked or how General Miller answered because it was a closed hearing. But how are you feeling about what you heard on the planning of the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan? Do you feel like you have any new clarity on why it happened the way it did?

BLUMENTHAL: The predominant feeling for me right now is dismay and anger, even fury, at what I heard today, most particularly the failure to provide relief to the Americans and our Afghan allies who are still caught in this humanitarian nightmare in Afghanistan. There are profound questions, very significant issues that need to be answered, and there must be an analysis and accountability. But the task at hand is what really preoccupies me. And today's closed-door classified briefing emphasized to me the feeling of urgency in enabling those Americans and Afghan allies to leave before they are tortured or killed.

CHANG: You say that profound questions remain for you. Can you give me the most important question that remains open to you?

BLUMENTHAL: The most important question for me is what went so terribly wrong in the 20 years leading to our withdrawal, in the very rushed and hurried withdrawal that was characterized by more chaos than clarity, and how and why the intelligence was lacking? Now, those questions were, for me, very important even before this hearing. But today, I feel they are more urgent than ever.

CHANG: Let me ask you - General Miller hasn't spoke publicly before Congress about Afghanistan since he was first confirmed to lead the mission in 2018. Now that mission, of course, is over. Why did your committee decide to keep this briefing behind closed doors?

BLUMENTHAL: That's a great question, Ailsa, and I will tell you very bluntly this hearing should be conducted - and will be conducted if I have anything to do with it - in the public, so the American people can hear. And at the end of this hearing...

CHANG: Well, why was it first conducted behind closed doors?

BLUMENTHAL: I think the reason that it was conducted behind closed doors was so that General Miller could be as candid and forthcoming as possible in telling us some of the details that perhaps would be dangerous for our troops, our methods and sources, which characteristically is the reason that issues are kept classified. But, in my view, there ought to be a full and forthcoming account to the American people.

CHANG: But if I may, why didn't you or other members of the Senate Armed Services Committee call on Miller, or on others in the military, to testify more over the past couple of years as the end of the war in Afghanistan approached? I mean, could that have helped? Could that have helped avoid some of what we saw in the last several weeks?

BLUMENTHAL: If one of the lessons learned here is that Congress should demand greater accountability in public from our military through the Armed Forces or the Committee on Armed Services, we should do so. And that's a legitimate question that ought to be posed to the Congress - whether, in fact, greater transparency, public accountability and other public sources would have helped to avoid the ultimate outcome.

CHANG: Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, thank you very much for joining our show today.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.