U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer criticizes Biden administration's handling of Afghanistan
President Joe Biden announced in April that he would withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, following an agreement between former President Donald Trump and the Taliban to have U.S. troops out by May (a deadline President Biden later extended to September). Recently, the Taliban moved quickly through the country, culminating in its seizure of Kabul and the flight of Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani.
Now, some Michigan lawmakers are expressing concerns over the rapidly escalating situation in Afghanistan, and how the U.S. has handled the withdrawal of troops. Among those lawmakers is U.S. Representative Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids).
Meijer serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and is a U.S. Army veteran. In an interview on Michigan Radio's Stateside, he said the "haphazard" way the U.S. has handled the withdrawal lost it the ability to negotiate with the Afghan government and made it difficult to get any concessions from the Taliban.
"I do believe the only positive solution would have been a negotiated political settlement, but right now, we have nothing to negotiate with," he said. "The U.S. has been embarrassed at the way in which intelligence signals were ignored, in which assumptions that were made were found to be baseless, and the sad reality is that thousands of Afghans are going to pay for their lives for our mistakes and incompetence."
On Monday afternoon, Biden stood by his administration's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, though he acknowledged that the situation escalated far more quickly than officials had anticipated. During his speech, Biden addressed concerns that the U.S. did not begin evacuating Afghans earlier, particularly Afghans who had helped the U.S. military.
"Part of the answer is some of the Afghans did not want to leave earlier, still hopeful for their country. And part of it because the Afghan government and its supporters discouraged us from organizing a mass exodus to avoid triggering, as they said, a crisis of confidence," Biden said.
Meijer was critical of that statement, saying that a bipartisan group of lawmakers raised concerns about providing visas for these Afghans months ago, calling it "incredibly infuriating" that action hadn't been taken sooner.
"It's shameful, and it's unconscionable that this was not a priority at any point," Meijer said. "The president, in his speech, blamed those special immigrant visa applicants for not getting out soon enough when there was a backlog of close to 20,000 because of the slow roll that his administration's bureaucracy performed and failing to account for the severity, the magnitude of the crisis that was ahead of us."
Meijer said he's been talking with Afghans still in the country whom he had worked with during his time in the military, and he said they were afraid for their lives and desperately seeking temporary shelter.
"Rather than start that process early, rather than err on the side of caution, by the time the Kabul government fell, we had only gotten two or three percent of the way to where we needed to be. And now we have tens of thousands of Afghans that we made promises to, who put their lives on the line for U.S. forces, that are in harm's way," Meijer said. He added, "800 days is not how long this process should have taken, 800 days is how long the process took when the State Department had no incentive to do right, and was more worried about being blameless than actually doing their job."
Biden said Monday afternoon that he authorized 6,000 troops to deploy to Afghanistan specifically to help evacuate U.S. personnel, Afghan allies, and vulnerable Afghans. He said the current objective is to get Americans and Afghans out of the country safely, and that the mission would be "short in time, and limited in scope."
Moving forward, Meijer said the immediate priority needs to be ensuring the safety of the airport in Kabul.
"If we lose the airport, that will precipitate a humanitarian catastrophe of untold proportions. Again, we have thousands of Americans who are there, we have tens of thousands of Afghans who are on that field. We need to hold that airport, we need to get flights out," he said.
You can hear the full interview with Rep. Peter Meijer on Stateside in the audio file at the top of this post.