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Maine's Federal Lawmakers Mixed In Reaction To Afghanistan Withdrawal

Congress Infrastructure
Jose Luis Magana
Associated Press
The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Tuesday, July 20, 2021.

The U.S. military’s occupation of Afghanistan is coming to a chaotic end — one that’s potentially violent for Afghans who assisted the American military during the 20-year conflict.

Maine’s members of Congress have been divided over the withdrawal, which was initiated under the Trump administration and is now being executed by President Joe Biden.

Biden, seeking to end a war that he has often lamented, is taking heavy criticism for not foreseeing the Taliban’s quick takeover of the country and ignoring calls among some members of Congress earlier this summer to quickly evacuate Afghan interpreters and other allies who partnered with U.S. forces.

On Monday afternoon, Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins chided the president in a written statement, saying the “chaos unfolding in Afghanistan is as awful as it was avoidable.”

Collins, who was skeptical of former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal plan last summer, said the Biden administration “badly misjudged the immediate conditions on the ground” and failed to plan for the evacuation of American citizens.

“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,” she said in the statement, referring to the military’s decision to suddenly leave Bagram in July.

In April, shortly after Biden announced his plan to withdraw troops by September, Collins, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, questioned CIA Director William Burns about the effect of pulling U.S. forces from the country and highlighted the exchange on her website.

Burns acknowledged at the time that removing U.S. forces from the country could hamper its ability to “collect and act on threats.”

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King indicated in July that the Biden administration needed to provide more details about its plans to leave the country.

In a statement provided Monday evening, King’s spokesman Matthew Felling said the withdrawal was going to be “fraught and challenging” because of the pressures in the region.

“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 said.

“Senator King will be seeking those answers for Maine and the American people from his positions on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committee 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.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a longtime critic of the Afghan occupation and the war in Iraq, said Biden was “right to finally end this forever war.”

“Our servicemembers 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,” Pingree said in a written statement. “Now we must do everything possible to get those who were loyal to our troops and aided us in Afghanistan to safety.”

Democratic U.S. Rep. Jared Golden responded in a written statement Monday afternoon. Golden, a U.S. Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, previously expressed support for the withdrawal when Trump first proposed it.

“We went into Afghanistan to bring Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda to justice for the attacks of 9/11. 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,” he said. “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.”

In June, Golden and a bipartisan group of lawmakers signed a letter urging President Biden to immediately evacuate the Afghan allies, saying that a failure to protect them would have a lasting impact on the U.S. military’s reputation.

Biden, in his first remarks since the Taliban entered Kabul, said Monday that he stands by his decision to withdraw troops, saying he would not leave the decision to his successor.

“We were clear-eyed about the risks. We planned for every contingency, but I always promised the American people that I would be straight with you,” he said. “The truth is this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.”

Updated: August 17, 2021 at 9:21 AM EDT
This story has been updated with reaction from Independent Sen. Angus King.