GOP Leader Blasts Biden Over Afghan Pullout as Pentagon Admits ‘Not Much’ it Can Do to Save Kabul
14:56 GMT 10.08.2021 (Updated: 18:53 GMT 10.08.2021)
All NATO forces apart from a contingent of Turkish troops left behind to guard the Kabul airport are expected to evacuate Afghanistan by the end of the month. The Taliban* has warned that all foreign troops must go. The deteriorating security situation has prompted all of Afghanistan’s neighbours to beef up border security.
Hawkish Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has slammed President Joe Biden over his decision to pull all troops out of America’s "Forever War" in Afghanistan, claiming the White House’s strategy has no rhyme or reason.
“Reality was clear to everyone but the very top of the Biden administration. From their bizarre choice of a symbolic September 11th deadline to the absence of any concrete plan, the administration’s decision appears to have rested on wishful thinking and not much else,” the Kentucky senator complained, speaking at a Senate session on Monday.
Recalling his opposition to Biden’s decision when he made the pullout announcement in April, McConnell pointed out that his position was supported by some prominent neoliberals, as well as intelligence agencies, who recommended that the US remain in Afghanistan indefinitely after the 19+ long year occupation.
The top Republican lawmaker went on to criticise the Pentagon over its inability to support Afghan government forces, who have faced major setbacks against the Taliban in recent days, from afar.
“The notion that Afghan forces might be able to stop the Taliban’s advance with only ‘over the horizon’ support? That’s proven to be wishful thinking. That the Taliban might respond to the diplomatic plying of the international community? Wishful thinking too,” McConnell said, adding that “as the administration’s withdrawal proceeds at full speed, expert warnings have become deadly realities.”
10 August 2021, 10:00 GMT
Referring to the Taliban as “murderous theocrats,” the lawmaker pointed to reports that the group had recently killed nearly 1,000 people in Kandahar province, and warned that the group now has more territory under its control than it has at any other time since the 2001 US invasion.
The senator warned that the Afghanistan withdrawal would “embolden” al-Qaeda* and threaten “not only the region but the American homeland” as well.
Record of Warmongering
McConnell voted in favour of the September 2001 authorisation on the use of military force that the US used to invade Afghanistan, and allow for further US military operations across the Middle East, Africa, and the Philippines in the nearly two decades since.
Before Monday's attack against Biden, the Kentucky senator spent over a year berating his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, over their Afghanistan pullout. Biden announced his Afghan pullout plans in April, with the withdrawal itself starting on 1 May. The Trump administration negotiated a peace agreement with the Taliban in Doha in February 2020, with the agreement committing coalition forces to pull out of the country in exchange for a pledge by the militia not to host terrorists threatening to attack the West in areas they control.
McConnell and Trump had a well-documented feud for much of the latter’s time in office, with the billionaire Republican president expressing pride in being the first president “in decades” not to start any new wars, and calling McConnell a "Republican In Name Only" (RINO) over a host of disagreements ranging from policy to personality. McConnell warned Trump that a US defeat in Afghanistan would have repercussions similar to the fallout caused by the fall of Saigon in 1975, which brought the US a humiliating defeat in the war in Vietnam.
© AP Photo / Evan VucciSenate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, July 20, 2020, in Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., listens as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, July 20, 2020, in Washington.
© AP Photo / Evan Vucci
At Monday’s session, Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy reminded McConnell that the decision to pull out of Afghanistan “wasn’t an original Joe Biden idea,” and that it was “Trump who actively engaged in a negotiation picking a target date for our troops to be gone.”
“There comes a point when we have to acknowledge we cannot ask another American to die to turn Afghanistan into a modern nation,” Murphy said.
‘Not Much’ US Can Do
The back-and-forth debate over Afghanistan on the Senate floor followed a frank admission by the Pentagon on Monday that there was very little the US could do to assist Afghan security forces using airpower alone if pro-Kabul forces themselves were not willing to fight.
“The answer to that question is ‘not much’,” Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby said in a press conference in Washington when asked about the recent Afghan army retreats.
“I mean, if – if – if it, - the –we don’t have forces on the ground in partnership with them, and we – we can’t - we – we will certainly support from the air, where feasible, but that’s no substitute for leaders on the ground, it’s no substitute for political leadership in Kabul, it’s no substitute for using the capabilities and capacity that we know they have,” Kirby added.
The spokesman stressed that the Afghan army had a number of advantages over the Taliban, including an air force, modern weaponry, modern training and organisation, and superior numbers. “And so again, they have the advantage – advantages and it’s really now their time to use those advantages.”
Asking why Afghanistan’s security forces were “failing” despite these “advantages,” Kirby suggested that this was a question for “top Afghan officials in Kabul and in the field, not the department of defence.”
7 August 2021, 18:00 GMT
Kirby’s comments came after the Taliban launched an attack against Mazar-i-Sharif – Afghanistan’s fourth-largest city, amid a string of successful offences on urban areas on a scale unseen since the 2017 Kunduz offensive. The militia took the cities of Kunduz, Sar-e-Pul and Taluqan in recent days, shattering Kabul government assurances and their US backers’ hopes that they would not penetrate urban areas populated largely by opponents of the militia. Other cities, including Aibak, Zaranj and Shebergha have also fallen. The cities of Kandahar and Lashkar Gah in the country’s south remain under attack.
Afghanistan’s regular army, which numbers about 186,000 troops, is facing off against about 75,000 Taliban fighters, according to US estimates, but has been unable to stop the Islamist militia’s advance amid the Western coalition’s withdrawal. The Kabul government has had more success with its 21,000 troop strong special operations commandos, which have been deployed across the country to stop, push back, or reverse Taliban gains, but their relatively small numbers have prevented these forces from keeping territories they have regained under government control.
On Tuesday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki reiterated that despite the recent string of setbacks, President Biden continues to believe that a Taliban takeover of Afghanistan is "not inevitable." She added that the White House's position is that "the Afghan national security defence forces has the equipment, numbers and training to fight back" and "strengthen their position at the negotiating table."
* Terrorist groups outlawed in Russia and many other countries.