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Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Blames Afghan Security Forces For Failure To Fight

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Well, earlier today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley briefed members of Congress on the situation in Afghanistan. This was an unclassified briefing. It was a virtual briefing. And our next guest was one of the folks on the call, Democratic chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Gregory Meeks.

Congressman Meeks, welcome.

GREGORY MEEKS: Good to be with you. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So we're speaking on a day when the president of Afghanistan has fled the country. The U.S. ambassador has been evacuated. U.S. citizens in Kabul were being told, at one point, shelter in place. Afghans are frantically trying to flee. I'm guessing the headline out of this meeting was not that things are going to plan.

MEEKS: Well, I think that the headlining at our meeting was exactly that we know that now - what our priorities are right now. And that is to protect all of the American personnel who remain in Afghanistan and to ensure that we get them out so that we can fulfill our commitment also to Afghan nationals and all those supported our efforts over the past 20 years, that we've got to get them all to - you know, to safety.

The message also was that it was and it is critical also that our intelligence community continues to have the ability to ensure that al-Qaida and other terrorist groups are unable to use Afghan soil to plan or - a terrorist attack against us on the United - you know, on our soil and - or our allies. So that was clear in regards to that. And...

KELLY: Your big takeaways. Congressman, forgive me for jumping in, but did they explain how things went off the rails so dramatically, so fast?

MEEKS: Well, I think that what happened, and I know how would - it affect me is that, you know, I don't think that anyone could have predicted, to be quite honest with you, that the Afghan security forces did not have the will to fight. I mean, that's what happened. There has been no resistance by the Afghan security forces.

And so if they don't have a will to fight, they put up no resistance. Then for me, as a member of Congress and an American, you know, and the American people, I think, are clear, for us to continue to spend close to $1 trillion there and then we have to do all of the fighting and they do nothing, then that's crazy.

KELLY: Let me follow on...

MEEKS: So I think (inaudible) called off because there was no will to fight at all on behalf of the Afghan security forces.

KELLY: To the point you just made, sir, you don't think anyone could have predicted this. It is the job...

MEEKS: Yes.

KELLY: ...Of U.S. intelligence to predict this, to try...

MEEKS: Well...

KELLY: ...To figure out what's going on and to brief the leaders of this country so that they can make decisions and enact policy.

MEEKS: Well, what...

KELLY: You will have heard President Biden just a month ago saying the likelihood that the Taliban is going to be overrunning everything and owning the whole country is, quote, "highly unlikely." How did the U.S., whether it's intelligence, whether it's the military, whether it's our policymakers, how did we get this so wrong?

MEEKS: Look, all we could do is what we did. We trained them. We gave them the equipment that they needed. We gave them strategic positions of which to take. They seemed to be a group that would be willing to fight to make sure that they - the gains that they - were made over the 20 years that was there, that that would happen.

KELLY: You sound pretty surprised yourself....

MEEKS: Well...

KELLY: ...At this turn of events.

MEEKS: ...I'm not saying I'm not surprised. I'm upset about it. I'm upset about it and then - and looked around and people say, oh, the United States, you know, did not do what it's supposed to do. Well, we went there first to make sure that we got rid of al-Qaida. So we were successful in doing that. But then we stayed for 20 years...

KELLY: Yeah.

MEEKS: ...Trying to put our troops, our people on the line to fight, to change the system, to protect women and girls, etcetera. And then we find out after all of that, they refused to fight for their own. That's a - that's problematic for me.

KELLY: Let me turn you to where things are now. There's going to be plenty of time to reckon over who's to blame and how it - and how we got here. What can, what should the U.S. do now to prevent an awful situation from getting more awful?

MEEKS: I think that what has to happen now, you know, above and beyond what I initiated, because I said the first thing that we've got to deal with is protection of our American personnel and those - or Afghans that - the (unintelligible). Then we've got to look really to see what the Afghan - excuse me, what the Taliban does. Now, generally, the Taliban has claimed - and I think that Trump helped give them some legitimacy by offering them to come to the Camp David, etcetera, and this agreement. But they claim they want legitimacy.

Now, is there going to be a transition of government? We've got to see whether or not - if they start trying to either marry off Afghan women to other Taliban individuals and preventing them from having educations or retaliating against...

KELLY: OK.

MEEKS: ...Folks and - you know, then we've got to stop that. So we...

KELLY: OK.

MEEKS: ...Need to see in third what's going to take place and work with our allies in that regard as we move forward with reference to this government that's - that has taken over.

KELLY: Congressman Meeks, thank you for your time today.

MEEKS: My pleasure.

KELLY: That is Gregory Meeks. He chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee. He was briefed this morning on the situation in Afghanistan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.