US House committee chair gives Monday deadline to Blinken in Afghan subpoena threat

By Patricia Zengerle and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Republican chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday gave the State Department until Monday to produce documents related to the August 2021 U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, or face a subpoena.

"I have the subpoena. it's right here. And I'm prepared to serve this," Representative Michael McCaul told Secretary of State Antony Blinken as he testified to the committee about the department's budget request.

McCaul has launched an investigation into the messy withdrawal from Afghanistan and events in the country since. Republicans - and some Democrats - say there has never been a full accounting of the chaotic operation, in which 13 U.S. service members were killed at Kabul's airport.

McCaul sent a letter to Blinken this week requesting the information before Thursday. The letter noted that McCaul had sent a comprehensive document request on the withdrawal on Jan. 12, and a follow-up letter on March 3, among other requests.

Blinken responded at Thursday's hearing that the department is working to provide as much information as possible.

"I want to make clear that we are working to provide all the information that this committee is looking for and that its oversight responsibilities give it the authority to secure," said Blinken, adding that his department had handed over an embassy action plan amounting to thousands of pages and would be sharing the substance of an after-action review conducted on the withdrawal in the next three weeks.

But Blinken said some specific information could only be shared with senior officials, a move intended to protect the identity of those expressing dissent.

"It is vital to me that we preserve the integrity of that (dissent) process and of that channel, that we not take any steps that could have a chilling effect on the willingness of others to come forward in the future to express dissenting views on the policies that are being pursued," he said.

The mother of one of the service members who was killed attended the hearing. She was greeted with strong applause when McCaul introduced her.

Hundreds of U.S. citizens and many thousands of Afghans who had worked with American forces were also left behind.

Blinken told the committee that several Americans were being held in Afghanistan, but they were not being identified at their families' request.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Simon Lewis; Editing by Marguerita Choy)