'Failure of American foreign policy of epic scale'
Connecticut's two U.S. senators stood outside the state Capitol Tuesday, deeply worried about the fate of American citizens and green card holders and their families, as well as translators and other American allies caught in Afghanistan.
They were talking about the ongoing emergency evacuation, which has been cast as a bad move set up by President Trump and carried out by President Biden. It is, said Sen. Chris Murphy, "a failure of American foreign policy of epic scale."
The U.S. must first deal with the life-and-death emergency facing Afghans and Americans who need to leave the country, but the investigation into how this calamity came about must reach back at least 20 years. It is not enough to criticize intelligence failures this year or corruption in the most recent Afghan government. What began as a way to track and punish terrorists after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks grew into a long-term presence that until now was neither a win nor a loss.
For the U.S.-connected Afghans caught under Taliban rule, it will now be a total loss. The mission is to save as many of those lives as possible.
Murphy, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee that includes Afghanistan and counterterrorism, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal are not among those putting all the blame on Biden for the unforeseen speed with which the Afghan government fell to the Taliban and its army dispersed. They do want to be "read in" on what the Biden administration plans to do when — not if — the U.S. cannot complete the airlift by Aug. 31. As of Tuesday evening, 70,700 people had been evacuated, with more planes leaving the Kabul airport every 45 minutes.
Calculations of how many Americans, including dual citizens; green card-holding U.S. residents; those who assisted U.S. troops and State Department missions; and others eligible for departure for humanitarian reasons vary by who is counting. Estimates range as high as 300,000.
Refugee and resettlement experts agree that it won't be possible to bring in from far-flung parts of the country all of those seeking to leave and get them out by the deadline. So far, the president is resisting calls from allies to keep up to 6,000 American troops in Afghanistan for as along as it takes.
We agree that enlarging the mission and the military presence that would require would be tantamount to restarting the war, this time without an Afghan army to support or a legitimate government to defend. Nonetheless, as both senators said, the Taliban cannot be allowed to dictate American foreign policy or timetables.
One way the U.S. may be able to apply pressure is that the Taliban is trying to form a new government and wants international aid to continue. The administration is asserting that the safe removal of those who want to leave should be able to continue indefinitely. On Tuesday, however, the Taliban said they would block access to Kabul's airport at some point. Their soldiers are already searching for people in hiding. As chaotic as the airport scenes look, it is worse off camera, observers say.
It is happening in real time. Cell phone calls fly back and forth to and from the United States as Americans, including U.S. veterans of the war, try to arrange a way out for their former Afghan colleagues.
Appearing with the senators in Hartford was the executive director of New Haven-based IRIS, Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services. Chris George was sometimes emotional as he reported efforts to help about 200 Connecticut residents trapped in-country. George appealed to individuals, churches and civic organizations to be ready to help at least 50 Afghan refugee families who do get out by sponsoring them to resettle in communities around the state.
As The Day and others have said, there may never have been a way to extricate the U.S. from Afghanistan without harm to those left behind, but it did not have to be this disorganized or on this scale. Indeed, the president said it would not be. He has admitted he was wrong. Senator Murphy has said his subcommittee will investigate what else was wrong, from the moment the mission shifted from finding Osama bin Laden to modernizing Afghanistan. American foreign policy on nation building needs to be revisited.
The Day editorial board meets with political, business and community leaders to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Timothy Dwyer, Executive Editor Izaskun E. Larraneta, Owen Poole, copy editor, and Lisa McGinley, retired deputy managing editor. The board operates independently from The Day newsroom.
Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.