December 09, 2021

Leave no man behind

The United States has been engaged in operations in Afghanistan for the last twenty years, keeping us safe from another 9/11-style terror attack. Following the terror attacks on September 11th, the United States and our allies invaded Afghanistan and took the country from the Taliban and their terrorist allies. After killing Osama bin Laden and attempting to rebuild Afghanistan, many determined that it was time to withdraw American forces from Afghanistan. One would think that a formal withdrawal after twenty years would be well thought out. Unfortunately, our current withdrawal lacked thought of any kind.

The current situation in Afghanistan is a crisis that could have easily been avoided, and the Biden Administration must be held accountable for the lack of planning and poor execution that has compromised the safety of both Americans and our Afghan allies. As a Vietnam-era veteran, I have already witnessed the tragic results of a poorly executed withdrawal, and I had hoped that this Administration had learned from the mistakes of the past and prioritized and strategized for a safe evacuation.

The poor leadership and planning by the Administration left behind billions of dollars in high-tech military equipment for the Taliban to do with as they please. I am concerned not only that the Taliban might use this equipment to harm Americans and our allies, but letting this equipment fall into the hands of our other adversaries is a serious threat to national security.

In early June, as the situation in Afghanistan became more dire, I joined a bipartisan group of members in a letter to President Biden calling on the Administration to ensure that Afghans who assisted American operations during the Global War on Terror were safely evacuated before a full U.S. withdrawal. At the time, we recognized that we must evacuate our Afghan partners to save them from violent retribution from the Taliban, because no American entity — including the Departments of Defense and State—has the ability or authority to protect them after our withdrawal. It is shameful that the Administration did not take the steps necessary to protect Americans and our allies before beginning to withdraw.

On June 27th, in a Homeland Security Committee hearing, I questioned Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of Homeland Security, about the Administration’s plans to safely evacuate American soldiers and our Afghan partners in a timely manner, to which the Secretary responded that the Administration is “very focused on that,” without details on how they planned to conduct a timely and safe withdrawal.

For a month and a half after my questioning at that hearing, the Administration showed no transparency in their plans for a safe withdrawal of our allies. The chaotic scene that unfolded at the Kabul airport is a betrayal to our allies, coalition partners, and soldiers that have sacrificed so much to help us in the Global War on Terror. It also resulted in the loss of thirteen young servicemembers, including Iowa’s Daegan Page, who thought they would soon be going home.

The results of this disaster of a withdrawal were foreseeable and entirely preventable. The scenes of thousands of our Afghan partners suffering from dehydration, being trampled, falling off aircraft to their deaths, and threats they are receiving from the Taliban are heartbreaking, as are reports of American soldiers being attacked. Our inaction undermines America’s leadership on the world stage.

To date, there are still Americans trapped in Afghanistan. We cannot leave Afghanistan until every American soldier and civilian has been evacuated, along with our partners and vulnerable Afghans. We must do better. There is simply no other option.

Mariannette Miller-Meeks is a 24-year Army veteran and member of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee who currently represents Iowa’s Second District in the United States House of Representatives.