U.S. Senator Ben Cardin

Letters From Ben

August 28, 2021

Afghanistan 

August 28, 2021

Dear Fellow Marylanders:

For two weeks now, the world has witnessed remarkable, vivid, frightening and at times heartening images coming from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Wednesday, though, was a very hard day. A heinous terrorist attack outside of Kabul airport left dozens of innocent civilians killed and injured, along with 13 American service members killed and 15 wounded as they were processing people through the airport. These were the first deaths in hostilities in Afghanistan in 18 months.

I express my deepest condolences to the families and loved ones of our service members and the Afghan civilians harmed by this attack. This attack is a painful reminder of the danger that our brave troops and our diplomats face in helping thousands of American citizens and allies escape. As a nation, we are indebted to their selflessness, courage, and compassion.

With the Taliban having reclaimed control of the country and the capital city, a tragic humanitarian crisis has unfolded. While the crisis is playing out across this vast mountainous country of 39 million people, the fact that we are now only seeing images from Kabul is a sign of how little we will know about the country once the international diplomatic and military – and media – presence departs in the days ahead.

As of Friday, more than 110,000 individuals – Americans, Afghans and allies – have been evacuated from the Kabul airport, which has been kept secure by thousands of American troops. In addition to getting U.S. citizens out of harm’s way, the mission has been to evacuate those who risked their lives to help us and the Afghan government.

These numbers are extraordinary, but thousands of Afghans – especially women and girls – remain in danger from the Taliban. Beyond the August 31 deadline, if necessary, the U.S. government should facilitate evacuation flights for all vulnerable groups in Afghanistan who seek asylum and safe haven in the United States or beyond. I have urged the Biden administration to find ways to bypass the normal bureaucracy to enable more people to leave quickly.

The U.S. has a moral responsibility to accept any Afghan seeking refuge that we can. All applicants for these visas should be evacuated immediately and not forced to wait in harm’s way while the application process proceeds.

After a 20-year presence in Afghanistan, first in retaliation for the 9/11 attacks on our country and then at the invitation of the elected Afghan government, America’s longest war is finally coming to an end.

The withdrawal of our troops was a long time coming and something the American people wanted to see happen. However, the speed with which the Afghan army collapsed, after two decades and billions of dollars in training, along with first-rate equipment, has been astonishing and is a deep disappointment. Reports have time and again told us about the corruption in the Afghan military – from salaries paid to “ghost soldiers” who do not exist, to brand new American-made weapons sold to the Taliban.

Congress will dig deep to understand what happened in Afghanistan. We particularly need clarity on why detailed plans were not in place to handle this evacuation better in Kabul, as well as in the U.S. and other countries that have been receiving transiting Afghan refugees. We have a constitutional duty to conduct oversight and we will not shirk from that role. 

For context, President Joe Biden is the fourth U.S. president to oversee military activity in Afghanistan. He has taken responsibility for what is happening today, but he was left with few options to clean up the mess left behind by his predecessors.

The compounding errors of Afghanistan started squarely with President George W. Bush, who failed to complete the original mission in Afghanistan and diverted vast resources to a new mission in Iraq unrelated to 9/11 and founded on the false premise that Saddam Hussein possessed ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ President Barack Obama wanted to pull troops out, but couldn’t find a way. President Donald Trump also announced a withdrawal. He talked about inviting the Taliban (a terrorist organization) to Camp David on the eve of the 9/11 anniversary and later cut secret deals with them leading directly to the chaos and violence we are seeing today. The fact that the previous administration negotiated with the Taliban without bringing the elected government of Afghanistan to the talks undercut that government’s stability and confidence – and buoyed the Taliban’s expectation of victory.

Any review of the current ugly endgame in Afghanistan must acknowledge the missteps of four administrations and not only these final moments.

Why should you care what is happening thousands of miles around the globe when we are dealing with a pandemic and economic crises here at home?

Approximately 800,000 troops cycled through this desert nation, many returning for their fourth and fifth tours of duty. We lost 2,443 U.S. military members in Afghanistan – to which we sadly must now add the 13 more lost this week. Another 20,000 more were wounded and still bear the scars. These numbers are set against 66,000 deaths among Afghan military and national police, as well as 47,245 Afghan civilians who were killed.

We also should care because we are human. The atrocities that have been carried out by the Taliban violate universal human rights and we cannot stand by as fellow humans are tortured or killed. At risk now are the Afghan interpreters, guides, and others, who were defending their home country and risked their lives to help those American troops. Say a prayer, if you are the praying kind, for the women and girls especially.

The men and women of the U.S. military fought bravely and sacrificed greatly over these two decades. It is time they come home to a grateful nation, and that we take stock of this complicated foreign adventure that is not ending in glory.

Thank you for your time. Please stay safe.

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Ben Cardin