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  • War in Afghanistan (2001-present)

image source, Getty Imagesimage captionSecretary of State Antony Blinken

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken has defended the chaotic US withdrawal from Afghanistan as he began his testimony before members of Congress.

The Secretary of State is facing criticism over the exit, especially over the Americans and allies left behind.Republicans characterised it as a humiliating loss to the Taliban, while Democrats have shifted focus onto pull-out negotiations that had been set by the Trump administration.

He is the first official to go before Congress since the exit.

"We inherited a deadline, not a plan," said Mr Blinken, defending the withdrawal.

The Biden administration has faced widespread criticism – at home and among allies – over the abrupt manner of the US withdrawal, which led to the unexpected collapse of the Afghan security forces that US troops had trained and funded for years.

Taliban militants reclaimed control of the country at a rapid pace, quickly surrounding the capital, Kabul, on 15 August.

The fall of the capital prompted thousands to converge on Kabul airport in a desperate attempt to leave.

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Monday's hearing is expected to be a contentious one, as several lawmakers have questioned the timeline of the withdrawal that saw US forces leave before civilians.

Over the course of a nearly 20 year war, more than 6,000 Americans and 100,000 local Afghans were killed, at an estimated cost of more than $2tn (£1.4tn).

In his opening remarks, Mr Blinken echoed President Biden's defence of the actions taken: "If 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment, and training did not suffice, why would another year, or five, or ten, make a difference?"

He called the airlift operation to evacuate Americans, allied foreign nationals and local Afghans who worked for them "an extraordinary effort".

Questions remain over exactly how many Americans remain in Afghanistan and whether the US government will recognise the Taliban's interim leadership.

"If they want to seek any legitimacy, or any support, it starts with freedom of travel," Mr Blinken said.

But Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, slammed the pull-out as "an unconditional surrender to the Taliban" adding it would not have happened if the president listened to military and intelligence officials.

"The American people do not like to lose. Especially to the terrorists," he said.

Secretary Blinken will face a second round of questioning from lawmakers when he goes before the Senate on Tuesday.