Utah Rep. Chris Stewart blames President Joe Biden for allowing the Taliban to seize the capital of Afghanistan, and called on the secretary of defense to step down while questioning whether top U.S. military leaders are “historically incompetent.”
“It pains me to see a mistake of this magnitude, but I could not in good conscience witness this level of failure without demanding accountability,” Stewart said in a statement Monday.
Both Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley should acknowledge their failure and resign, he said.
Chaos reigned in Afghanistan as Taliban forces stormed across the country to overtake Kabul amid the U.S. troop withdrawal from the country. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled and the Taliban installed themselves in the presidential palace over the weekend.
Congressional Republicans, including Stewart, and Democrats generally agreed it was time for the U.S. military to get out of Afghanistan after two decades of war, but the GOP now is criticizing the Biden administration for the way it’s being handled.
Stewart said that pulling the troops out was the right policy and an orderly withdrawal could have been achieved by competent leadership.
“After 20 years of sacrificing blood and treasure toward a mission in which we no longer know what success even looks like, we built a government that collapsed in mere days,” he said. “But the ongoing catastrophe in Afghanistan was entirely avoidable and is a blatant failure of leadership — both by President Biden and the Pentagon.”
Allowing weapons, helicopters, ammunition and classified documents to fall into the hands of the Taliban is inexcusable and not being able to defend the U.S. Embassy is a disgrace, Stewart said. Leaving the Afghan soldiers and interpreters who fought beside American troops to fend for themselves is incomprehensible, he said.
Competent military leadership could have withdrawn U.S. forces in an orderly fashion, creating benchmarks and priorities that would have prevented the current situation, Stewart said.
“Neither the president nor the Pentagon did any of that,” said Stewart, who served in the Air Force for 14 years.
These two things are not mutually exclusive, and in fact are both true:— Rep. Chris Stewart (@RepChrisStewart) August 16, 2021
First, withdrawing our combat troops from Afghanistan was the right policy. Second, organizing an orderly withdrawal could have been achieved by competent leadership.
Biden announced in April plans to withdraw U.S. troops by Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which were coordinated from Afghanistan.
In his first speech since the Taliban seized the presidential palace in Kabul, Biden stood by his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan but said little about the current situation.
“The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated,” he said from the White House. “So, what happened? Afghanistan leaders gave up and fled the country. The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight.”
No more Americans should die fighting a war the Afghans will not fight themselves, he said. Biden said the U.S. spent more than a trillion dollars in Afghanistan, and trained and equipped more than 300,000 Afghan forces over the years.
The developments of the past week reinforce that ending U.S. military involvement now was the right decision, he said.
“The events we are seeing now are sadly proof that no amount of military force would ever deliver a stable, united, secure Afghanistan,” the president said, adding the same thing could just as easily happened five years ago or 15 years in the future.
Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said the president assured Americans that the withdrawal was going as planned, and that the Afghan army was well equipped, prepared, and able to defend their country.
“We now know that everything he said was untrue,” he said. “Did the generals mislead the president and the American people, or were they simply — and historically — incompetent?”
Republican Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said Biden’s failure to acknowledge his “disastrous” withdrawal provides no comfort to Americans or Afghans whose lives hang in the balance.
“Contrary to his claims, our choice was not between a hasty and ill-prepared retreat or staying forever. The decision to place a higher priority on a political promise than on the lives of innocent men, women, and children is a stain on America’s reputation and undermines our credibility around the world,” he said in a statement after the president’s speech.
Rep. Blake Moore, R-Utah, said the withdrawal should have never been tied to the 20th anniversary of 9/11. He said he has “major concerns” that the decision was ceremonial rather than tactical. He said it feels like the U.S. was “completely blindsided” as cities fell to the Taliban.
“This has been an abject failure on getting the minimum taken care of, making sure that we have our personnel secured,” Moore said on KSL Newsradio’s “Dave and Dujanovic Show” Monday. “I can’t believe we got to this point.”
Romney, who has opposed the withdrawal from the start, tweeted Sunday that he understands but disagrees with those who felt the U.S. should leave Afghanistan.
“I cannot understand why it has been done with such tragic human cost; without an effective strategy to defend our partners; and with inestimable shock to our nation’s credibility, reliability, and honor,” he said.
Romney also tweeted that there will be time for recrimination later. “But today, I mourn for the Afghan brothers and sisters and struggle to hold sobs within me. My God, how could we have forsaken Thy children,” he posted on Twitter.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, said he met with leaders in the Afghanistan parliament a few months ago about the crucial role the U.S. has played to bring stability to the country and region through a targeted military presence.
“Biden’s disastrous moves in Afghanistan have not only severe consequences for Afghans but weaken America’s credibility as we move into an era of great power competition,” he tweeted. “It is difficult to see any result other than further instability in the region. This will only lead to greater human rights abuses and — as the military joint chiefs have already stated — an increase in terrorist activity.”
Curtis urged Biden to not recognize the Taliban as a legitimate governing state. He said he’s praying for the Afghan people, specifically women and girls, and is mindful of the sacrifices American soldiers have made.