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Sen. Mike Lee on prolonged Afghanistan War: ‘Let’s end it’

Mike Lee Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee says it is way past the time to pull the plug on the war in Afghanistan, which he has called one of the most shameful political and military scandals in American history.

“Let’s get out. Nineteen years is too long. Let’s end it,” the Utah Republican emphatically stated at a Senate committee hearing.

Lee encouraged President Donald Trump to “follow his instincts” to withdraw U.S. troops fighting the Taliban in the longest-running war in American history. Trump has conditionally approved a peace deal with the Taliban that may lead to the withdrawal of U.S. troops, the New York Times reported earlier this week.

“President Trump might be the only one that could make that hard choice because it would be a firestorm if anybody talks about actually ending this, but if anyone could do it, it might be him,” retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis said during the hearing.

Lee said he completely agrees.

Davis, who wrote a scathing report in 2012 criticizing top U.S. generals for misleading the American public in order to push failing policies in Afghanistan, was a witness at a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs subcommittee hearing Tuesday.

Lee is not a member of the committee but Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., the subcommittee chairman, asked him to attend.

Lee has had long-standing questions about the war in Afghanistan and said the Pentagon has not given him satisfactory answers. He has called it a gross abuse of power and military force that wastes trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.

The Washington Post reported last month that documents it dubbed the “Afghanistan Papers” revealed military and civilian leaders from the last three administrations engaged in a massive conspiracy to mislead people about the success or progress in Afghanistan.

Congress and the public were knowingly lied to and deceived, Lee said.

“This is clearly unacceptable and, in fact, describing it as such almost doesn’t do justice to the concept of acceptability,” he said.

It goes beyond run-of-the-mill government waste, fraud and abuse, Lee said.

“The stakes are higher nowhere than when we put our American blood and American treasure to a very substantial degree on the line,” he said.

Two U.S. soldiers were killed and six wounded in a so-called insider attack in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province last Saturday when an Afghan dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire, U.S. military said. They are among nearly 2,400 U.S. service members killed and more than 20,000 wounded since 2001, according to the Defense Department.

President George W. Bush sent troops to Afghanistan after 9/11 to defeat the Taliban and prevent al-Qaida attacks against the U.S.

“That war is still going on. The Taliban is still a thing, and yet I’m not exactly sure what we have to show for it,” Lee said. “What is the objective in Afghanistan? I’m not sure I know anymore.”

Davis said U.S. troops “annihilated” the Taliban within the first year of the war and should have been brought home after that because there was no military mission left to fulfill. But, he said, Bush and President Barack Obama changed the mission to “nation building,” which can’t be accomplished with military forces.

“There is no strategy right now. None,” Davis said. “We’re merely conducting operations with no objective.”