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August 30, 2021

Review of Afghan exit urged by federal lawmakers representing Frederick County

Credit: The Frederick News-Post, Ryan Marshall

As the deadline for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan arrives, Frederick County’s representatives in Congress say they expect hearings to examine the chaotic nature of the departure and acknowledge the crises of recent weeks were the result of failures from several administrations.

Congress will certainly conduct oversight hearings of the downfall of the Afghan government and the Biden administration’s response, but the immediate concern is dealing with the “humanitarian crisis” of getting as many people as possible out of harm’s way, said Sen. Ben Cardin (D), the second-ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Monday there were still a “small number” of Americans who wanted to leave the country, according to the Associated Press.

But the AP and other news outlets reported Monday afternoon that the last U.S. flight out of Kabul had left the country.

Cardin said the situation in Afghanistan today is the result of the policies of the administrations of George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Biden.

“To me, mistakes have been made by all those administrations,” Cardin said.

Bush took resources and attention away from Afghanistan to invade Iraq in 2003, while Obama continued to seek ways to get out, Cardin said.

Trump held secret negotiations with the Taliban and made a deal to withdraw American troops, while Biden failed to foresee the quick collapse of the Afghan government.

It’s not a surprise that the Afghan government fell, Cardin said. But the members of the Foreign Relations Committee thought it would take months, not days.

It’s fair to say that many people didn’t anticipate the speed that the Taliban’s takeover took place, said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D), also a member of the Foreign Relations Committee.

He called for hearings to review the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.

The important thing now is to avoid a return to the situation 20 years ago, when the Taliban gave al Qaeda a safe haven to plan the Sept. 11 attacks, Van Hollen said.

He said the U.S. needs to do a better job of working together with countries in the region to avoid that.

Van Hollen doesn’t see any significant U.S. presence in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future, but he said it’s important to use whatever leverage America does have with allies and others to protect the gains that have been made there, especially when it comes to women’s rights.

Van Hollen said he’s not impressed with Taliban assurances that they’ll protect those rights.

“My view is, watch what they do, not what they say,” Van Hollen said.

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Dist. 8) believes the U.S. should do everything possible to work with other countries to ensure respect for the rights of women and girls in Afghanistan. Any foreign aid money needs to be linked to human rights, he said.

The Taliban “have to decide whether they want to deal with the rest of the world or not,” Raskin said.

The congressman said he was horrified at the terror attack Thursday that killed 13 American service members and dozens of Afghans.

“It’s a horrific trail of tears in Afghanistan,” he said.

While there definitely needs to be some oversight of the U.S. exit and the 20-year war in Afghanistan, he said now is not the time for partisan recriminations of the Biden or Trump administrations.

All the focus now needs to be on getting every American and their Afghan allies out of the country, he said.

U.S. Rep. David Trone (D-Dist. 6) tweeted Sunday that he and his team have been working with other members of Congress “around the clock” to get as many Americans and Afghan allies to safety as possible.

In a statement Monday, Trone mourned the American service members and the Afghans killed in Thursday’s attack.

“The evolving situation in Afghanistan is difficult to watch unfold, particularly for those who served in the area and hold meaningful relationships with the Afghan people … It’s clear that we need a full briefing in the coming weeks and months to understand the intelligence that informed this decision,” he said.

But Raskin thinks Congress needs to look at both the U.S. exit and the costs and benefits of the 20-year war in Afghanistan.

As the U.S. has learned in places like Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, there can be a certain hubris in military power, Raskin said.

“Obviously, these wars are a lot easier to get into than they are to get out of,” he said.