WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitt Romney questioned Secretary of State Antony Blinken over leaving Americans and others behind amid the U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, calling it a "moral stain" on the United States.
"You knew there was no way you were going to get all these people out in time given the rapid collapse of the Afghan security forces," the Utah Republican told Blinken during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Tuesday.
"I don't know why a date was actually not inherited and a date was not selected that would be sufficient to actually remove people from the nation in a way that would be keeping with our moral commitment to honor our citizens, our green card holders as well as those who worked with us over the years."
Romney said former President Donald Trump was wrong to enter into an agreement to withdraw, and that President Joe Biden was wrong to continue with that agreement to withdraw, and "I was appalled by the disastrous withdrawal process itself."
Blinken has repeatedly pointed to the fact that the Biden administration was left with an agreement former President Donald Trump brokered directly with the Taliban for the withdrawal of U.S. forces by May 1.
"We inherited a deadline. We did not inherit a plan," Blinken told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Monday amid harsh criticism from Republicans on the panel.
Romney said the Biden administration didn't inherit the date but pushed it back to Aug. 31.
Blinken said the administration took some risk in terms of what the Taliban would do or not do after May 1.
"It's a risk with other people we took. The risk was on people we care for," Romney interjected.
The military told the administration that a safe and orderly troop drawdown would take three to four months, Blinken said. He said the expectation was that the Afghan government and armed forces would remain in control of Kabul and other major cities. Also, he said the U.S. Embassy was to remain open with 600 troops providing security.
An alarming number of U.S. legal permanent residents and partners, including SIV applicants, have been left behind to face the Taliban. We must keep our commitment to these groups and ensure they are safely evacuated from Afghanistan. pic.twitter.com/fJgVl0uNnt— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) September 14, 2021
"So that was very much the plan and the expectation. What we did not anticipate was that 11-day collapse of the government and security forces. That's what changed everything," Blinken said.
Romney said, "It seemed as the Taliban was running the table throughout Afghanistan, that the prospect of them continuing to run the table by coming into Kabul was a significant probability that should have been planned for."
The senator said he understands that only a small number of Americans remain in Afghanistan but wanted to know the "level of commitment to getting legal permanent residents or green card holders out of the country."
Evacuating American citizens was the president's top priority, Blinken said. He said the administration also "did everything that we could" to make sure that legal permanent residents or green card holders identified themselves to U.S. officials.
"I didn't recognize there is a second level of priority for a legal permanent resident," Romney replied.
In response to Romney's questioning, Blinken also confirmed that the Taliban's relationship with al-Qaida and the Haqqani network "has not been severed," and acknowledged that in light of renewed terrorist threats, the administration may have to reevaluate its stance on the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
"If we don't have those authorities, we should get them," Blinken said. "Whether that means, relooking at those authorizations or writing new ones, I think would be the most appropriate thing to do."