Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan was one of the few issues some Republicans weren’t afraid to break with the then-president on and now, with President Joe Biden set to follow through on Trump’s directive, GOP lawmakers are split again.
Biden on Thursday announced the U.S. will pull out all military forces in Afghanistan by September 11, pushing back a May 1 deadline set by Trump last fall.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the decision was a “grave mistake” that would “likely” result in “disaster” while Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the No. 3 Republican in the House, argued it would “only embolden the very jihadists who attacked our homeland on that day twenty years ago.”
Other Republicans applauded the move, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a vocal Biden critic, telling CNN he’s “glad” the troops are “coming home,” and Sen. Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming saying she’s “pleased” with the decision, even though she wished it would happen by May 1.
The split is a repeat of last year, when many Republicans, including McConnell and Graham, a fierce Trump ally, broke with the former president after the Trump White House announced plans to withdraw troops from the country following negotiations with the Taliban.
In an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Biden was “paving the way for another 9/11” by withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.
Most Democrats backed Biden’s decision, but a few lawmakers, including Sens. Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, appeared apprehensive about the move this week. “This should be seen as transitional, rather than closure,” Reed said, adding he understood it to be a “very difficult decision by the president.” Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire said she was “very disappointed” by the move. “The U.S. has sacrificed too much to bring stability to Afghanistan to leave [without] verifiable assurances of a secure future,” Shaheen, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said.
2,500. That’s the official number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, though the number often changes and currently sits at around 1,000 more than that. The Biden administration’s goal is to get to zero troops by September.
Afghanistan is still wracked by violence: an average of eight Afghans were killed and 15 injured every day in 2020, according to United Nations data. Peace talks between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban have stalled, and analysts say the removal of U.S. troops could damage any hopes for an agreement between the two sides, and may potentially lead to expansion by the Taliban that could significantly weaken the U.S.-backed government in Kabul. U.S. troops in the region are currently mostly focused on counterterrorism efforts, but the Biden administration has made clear U.S. military assistance to Afghan forces will not be used as a “bargaining chip” in the negotiations process. Biden’s announcement comes on the heels of a White House review that determined following Trump’s May 1 deadline would result in chaos that would ultimately drag the U.S. back into the war effort, according to the Washington Post.
What To Watch For
Intelligence agencies have concluded Al Qaeda and other terrorist networks do not pose an immediate threat to the U.S., according to the New York Times. The conclusion was crucial to Biden’s decision to pull out troops by September.
In nearly 20 years of fighting, 2,300 U.S. troops have died and more than 100,000 Afghani civilians have either been killed or injured. The U.S. has spent $2 trillion in total on the effort.
“I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan,” Biden will say during a speech Wednesday, according to a transcript released by the White House. “Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.”
Will Afghanistan Become a Terrorism Safe Haven Once Again? (New York Times)