WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden called the scenes from Afghanistan “gut-wrenching” as videos showed Afghans running along with U.S. aircraft at Kabul's Hamid Karzai Airport to leave a country that has fallen under Taliban control.
Rep. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, said that what’s happening there is affecting Afghans in the U.S. On Monday, when Correa entered his office, a constituent was waiting for him.
What You Need To Know
- Rep. Lou Correa reports that a resident was in his office pleading for help to bring her husband back from Afghanistan
- Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle support the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops but are critical of how the process unraveled
- Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Santa Cruz, said it's a mistake not to leave a small U.S. footprint to gather intelligence
- Biden stands by his withdrawal and said it would be wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s would not
"I walked into my office, and I have a citizen, a resident of my district, an Afghan woman crying saying, 'Help get my husband out of Kabul. My husband worked for the government. He was a security force officer, he will be killed unless you get him out,'" said Correa.
Many lawmakers from both sides of the aisle support the president’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops but are critical of how the process unraveled.
Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Santa Cruz, who completed a tour of duty in the war in Afghanistan, said the administration failed to withdraw troops in a “safe” and “humane” manner. The solution, he explained, could have been simply to leave a small U.S. footprint.
"That's what I saw as an intelligence officer with the Special Operations Unit in Afghanistan when I served ’07 to ’08, that could provide that optimal information," Panetta said. "Now that there are no Americans on the ground, it's going to be very tough to do that. Therefore, you're going to see certain threats come into play."
According to Panetta, threats include the terrorism that comes with the sale of narcotics and an increased flow of refugees that may lead to a humanitarian crisis. Panetta added that a small U.S. footprint left stationed in Afghanistan could work on both counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism, and could be there to shut down any of the Taliban’s questionable and dangerous advances. Without that footprint, Panetta believes the administration will look back and see that this was a mistake.
"When you turn on the TV and see what’s going on, and when you obviously served in Afghanistan like I did, and you put those two together, you can’t help but think this is an absolute catastrophe," he said.
President Biden, however, said in an address Monday afternoon that the withdrawal plan was already in place from the former administration. He reminded Americans that the pullout was originally negotiated by the Trump administration and that former President Donald Trump had plans to invite Taliban leaders to Camp David around September.
Some Democratic lawmakers point the finger instead at U.S. intelligence for what they see as a major shortcoming: not knowing how quickly or to what extent Afghanistan would collapse.
"Our intelligence did not predict this swift crashing of the Afghan military forces," Correa said. "They had a force of 300,000, one of the best trained in the world, best equipped and they quickly fell, much faster than any of us anticipated. The lesson is, you can’t train soldiers from far away to act like American soldiers. It just doesn’t work, and we have to take these lessons moving forward."
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, who has been a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee for 25 years, said it should have been apparent that Kabul would fall quickly once interpreters were desperate to get visas to escape the country.
“To think that Afghan army was going to fight for a few months so we can have an orderly withdrawal, who wants to be the last to die in this war?” Sherman said. “There was no good way to handle a defeat and a surrender. And there was no time at which we could have this orderly withdrawal and bring out tens of thousands of Afghans. [The U.S. is] good at moving in, taking out bad folks and leaving, but one weakness we have is we expect we'll go in and make things perfect.”
Republicans, like House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, blame the chaos solely on the president, calling the operation an “embarrassment” and a "bungled withdrawal." "The current failure in Afghanistan falls squarely on [Biden’s] shoulders," he said in a tweet.
Joe Biden has been commander-in-chief for seven months – the current failure in Afghanistan falls squarely on his shoulders.— Kevin McCarthy (@GOPLeader) August 15, 2021
His lack of leadership during this pivotal moment has been shameful – it has only served to embolden our adversaries and let down our allies.
Biden stands by his withdrawal and said it would be wrong to order American troops to step up when Afghanistan’s would not. Correa noted that he feels “terrible” for the people suffering in Afghanistan as well as those closer to home.
“This is real,” he said. “There’s desperation in our hometowns of those from Afghanistan, and this is not over.”
There are fears that extremist groups like al-Qaida, which was behind the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, could find safe harbor in Afghanistan again and that women will go back to being severely oppressed and denied education and work. The Taliban said this weekend they have changed their ways over the last couple of decades and that woman will be able to continue learning and working — but the Taliban’s declarations are not penetrating the fears growing in Afghanistan for what tomorrow will bring.