One of the sharpest critics of the U.S. troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan last summer says the episode left the United States “overflowing with shame.”
Late. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who previously said he can not think of a bigger “mess” in his lifetime than the way the Biden administration handled the evacuation of Americans and Afghan allies from Afghanistan, again criticized the removal in a Senate committee hearing Wednesday.
The first-term senator said he wanted to talk about the decisions to go into Afghanistan and what experiences the United States could have learned or done differently.
“But I can not go on to it without acknowledging the fact that in many respects we have been showered with shame in the way we left,” Romney said. “Firstly, I think a catastrophic decision by the previous administration to surrender to the negotiations and the agreement we reached, and the continuation of that decision by the current administration, and then of course its fateful execution of the withdrawal.”
Former President Donald Trump erred in negotiating with the Taliban and set a date for the withdrawal at the start of the fighting season, Romney said in August. He said Trump was negotiating from a weak position, and President Joe Biden also pulled troops out from a weak position.
Biden, he said, should have planned the evacuation, including knowing where the Americans lived and how to contact them.
“We have left thousands. We have broken promises to friends and allies. We have left women and girls there. And of course we have put America and our friends and our national interests at much greater risk,” Romney said Wednesday at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing. .
Chaos reigned in Afghanistan as Taliban forces stormed across the country to overtake Kabul amid the withdrawal of US troops from the country. Thousands of American citizens and Afghan interpreters and others who helped American forces during the 20-year war climbed to get out of the capital.
Utah Marine Sgt. Taylor Hoover and 12 other U.S. troops who secured access to Hamid Karzai International Airport were killed by an ISIS-K suicide bomber. More than 100 Afghans also died.
Romney noted that a poll showed that most Americans wanted the U.S. military to leave Afghanistan.
“I wish political people would say, ‘Let’s point out to the American people – do you really want to leave if there will be abandonment of our principles, abandonment of girls and a deterioration of our national security?’ That, I think, could lead to a different poll response, ”he said.
Romney also raised questions about what the United States could have done differently after the 9/11 attack, given that the Taliban was responsible for al-Qaeda having an operational base in Afghanistan.
“It struck me that our mission went from securing America from a potential future attack, to trying to build a country in a democratic style, and that it was just a bridge too far,” he said.
Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker said in the hearing that there was no alternative to the approach taken by the Bush administration in 2001.
“We gave the Taliban one out. We asked them to hand over the al-Qaeda leadership to us, and we will leave you in peace. They refused to do so, and I think the refusal left us no choice but to to carry out the mission as we did, ”he said.
Crocker said it would be difficult to justify at home or abroad ignoring the Taliban after they refused to abandon the 9/11 killers and just go after al-Qaeda.
“And when we were done with that, just say ‘thank you for your hospitality’ and go home yourself. I do not think it was a sustainable approach, either in national security or in political terms,” he said.
Romney asked if it was doomed from the start to go from a mission aimed at eradicating the Taliban and removing al-Qaeda to trying to create a democratic nation in Afghanistan.
Crocker said he did not mean it, saying the international community was coming together under UN auspices to set the stage for a new Afghanistan.
“I do not think it would have been possible or conceivable for us to say that we would not do it. ‘We just want to go after the bad guys, forget all this.’ To me, it exists in some area of science fiction, to be honest, “Crocker said.
Despite US efforts to support the Afghan military, it fell easily for the Taliban in the midst of the withdrawal of troops, plunging the country into violent chaos.
Pictures of Afghans trying to escape the country clinging to an air force cargo plane made comparisons with the evacuation of Saigon after the city fell to the North Vietnamese at the end of the Vietnam War in 1975. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese civilians fought for seats on it , which became the largest helicopter evacuation in history.
Romney said there was time in Vietnam to get people out, and the Americans were not left as they were in Afghanistan.
“I can not think of a major mess, at least in the course of my life, and one that has led to a humanitarian catastrophe, which has led to a loss of credibility for America around the world and other nations that are dependent on America, ”Romney told Deseret News and the KSL editorial staff in August
The United States, he said, may never regain the trust of its allies around the world or fully the credibility lost in the debacle.