WASHINGTON, D.C., USA — The Taliban have seized power in Afghanistan two weeks before the U.S. was set to complete its troop withdrawal after a costly two-decade war.
The insurgents stormed across the country, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, as Afghan security forces trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies melted away.
Thousands of Afghans rushed onto the tarmac of Kabul's international airport Monday, so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto an American military jet as it took off and plunged to death in chaos that killed at least seven people, U.S. officials said.
A senior U.S. official said, “it’s heartbreaking” to see what’s happening in Kabul, but that President Joe Biden “stands by” his decision to pull out. Due to the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan, Biden returned to the White House from Camp David by Monday afternoon and delivered remarks on the situation.
Biden said Monday that he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan and that the government's collapse was quicker than anticipated.
Members of Congress representing Maine are voicing their thoughts on the situation Monday.
Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine on Monday that the chaos unfolding in Afghanistan "is awful as it was avoidable," and said the Biden administration "badly misjudged the immediate conditions on the ground."
"It did not plan adequately for the safe evacuation of American citizens," Collins continued. " [...] As the Taliban consolidates its sweeping control over Afghanistan, the opportunity exists for the country to once again become a safe haven for Islamist terrorist groups targeting our country."
Read Collins' full statement at the end of this story.
The situation in Afghanistan hits home for Maine Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, who served in the U.S. Marines and was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The mission to bring justice to Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda is one of the reasons Golden joined the Marines, he wrote in Newsweek in March.
Golden supported Biden’s decision to withdraw troops, saying in April, “We've been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years now. We killed bin Laden almost a decade ago. It's well past time for American servicemembers to leave the country.”
In a statement to NEWS CENTER Maine on Monday, Golden said, "Although we must always remain vigilant to protect our country from terrorist threats, we accomplished our core mission in Afghanistan in 2011 when we killed Bin Laden."
"As I have said publicly before, I supported the decision of first President Trump and now President Biden to bring our troops home from Afghanistan," Golden continued. "The rapid collapse of the Afghan National Army, however, has created a precarious situation, and I believe that the president should leave our troops on the ground at Kabul International Airport for as long as is necessary to ensure we get all American citizens out safely and to evacuate as many of our Afghan allies as possible.”
Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree, who opposed the wars started during the W. Bush administration following the Sept. 11 terror attacks and has fought to end them throughout her time in Congress, said Biden “was right to finally end this forever war.”
“Our service members and their families have made enormous sacrifices over the course of the last two decades; we must honor their dedication by ensuring another generation does not have to fight the same battle. Now we must do everything possible to get those who were loyal to our troops and aided us in Afghanistan to safety,” Pingree said in a statement Monday.
When Biden announced the plan to bring U.S. troops home by Sept. 11, Maine Independent Sen. Angus King emphasized the seriousness of it and expressed concern over the stability of the region and defense of the homeland.
Amid the chaos that erupted over the weekend and on Monday in Afghanistan, King’s communications director Matthew Felling said while the withdrawal of troops was supported by over 70% of Americans, the process “was going to be fraught and challenging given the pressures in the region.”
“Right now, the safety of American troops, personnel, and our allies on the ground must command all our energy and attention at this critical moment. That said, the speed of the Taliban’s march to and into Kabul raises questions of overall strategy, the adequacy of our intelligence, the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces, and the failure of the Afghan government to build support throughout the country that warrant hard questions and clear answers,” Felling continued.
Felling said King, who serves on the Senate Committee on Armed Services and the Senate Intelligence Committee, will be seeking those answers in the weeks ahead “to gain clarity on how our plans and expectations for the Afghanistan people after a trillion dollars, thousands of lives lost, and twenty years were so at odds with the reality we’ve seen play out over the last several weeks.”
Biden is the fourth U.S. president to confront challenges in Afghanistan and has insisted he wouldn’t hand America’s longest war to his successor. But he will likely have to explain how security in Afghanistan unraveled so quickly, especially since he and others in the administration have insisted it wouldn’t happen.
Biden has argued for more than a decade that Afghanistan was a kind of purgatory for the United States. He found it to be corrupt, addicted to America’s largesse and an unreliable partner that should be made to fend for itself. His goal was to protect Americans from terrorist attacks, not building a country.
In July he said he made the decision to withdraw with “clear eyes.” His judgment was that Afghanistan would be divided in a peace agreement with the Taliban, rather than falling all at once.
“There’s going to be no circumstance where you see people being lifted off the roof of a embassy in the — of the United States from Afghanistan,” he said in July. “The likelihood there’s going to be one unified government in Afghanistan controlling the whole country is highly unlikely.”
This story will be updated.
Collins' full statement:
"The chaos unfolding in Afghanistan is as awful as it was avoidable. The Biden Administration badly misjudged the immediate conditions on the ground. It did not plan adequately for the safe evacuation of American citizens. Also at great risk are Afghans like translators who worked closely with us, as well as Afghan women leaders, such as the courageous woman running a girls’ school with whom Senator Jeanne Shaheen and I met recently.
The Administration’s unwise decision to abandon Bagram Air Base, which I traveled to four times, now greatly hampers our rescue efforts since we now are dependent on one airport in Kabul.
As the Taliban consolidates its sweeping control over Afghanistan, the opportunity exists for the country to once again become a safe haven for Islamist terrorist groups targeting our country."