Blinken orders reviews of US State Department's evacuation efforts out of Afghanistan

Evacuees wait to board a US Air Force plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan on Aug 25, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed on Wednesday (Oct 27) that he has ordered a series of internal reviews of the State Department's planning and execution of the US evacuation of Afghanistan and the relocation efforts, operations that were widely criticised as chaotic.

The US' two-decade occupation of Afghanistan culminated in a hastily organised airlift in August in which more than 124,000 civilians including Americans, Afghans and others were evacuated as the Taliban took over.

But thousands of other US-allied Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution were left behind.

In a speech unveiling new steps to modernise the State Department, Mr Blinken praised the evacuation operation but also said the agency needs to learn from this experience and do better if a similar scenario presents itself in the future.

"There are many things that now, looking back, we can and should ask, 'Could we have done things differently?' 'Could we have taken that step differently?' 'Should we have tried that idea first?' 'Could we have gotten to that decision more quickly?'," he said in the speech at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington, Virginia, attended by lawmakers, diplomats and others.

Reuters and other media outlets reported last week that the State Department's inspector-general will review the end of the Biden administration's diplomatic operations in Afghanistan, including the emergency evacuation of the US embassy in Kabul.

The department's acting inspector-general will also look into its Special Immigrant Visa programme, the processing of Afghans for admission as refugees and their resettlement in the United States.

Mr Blinken did not give details about what precise steps of the evacuation and relocation would be reviewed.

"Now we owe it to ourselves, to our Afghan friends and partners, and to the future State Department employees who might find themselves facing a similar challenge one day to capture all that we learned, to study it, to apply it, to preserve it in a way that it enhances our future planning and helps us prepare better for future contingencies," he said.

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