U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today spoke on the Senate floor in response to yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on President Biden’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan. Thune discussed the revelation that President Biden’s decision to remove troops from Afghanistan on an arbitrary deadline went directly against the advice he received from his top military commanders, and he highlighted the urgent need for members of the administration to be held accountable.
Thune’s remarks (as prepared for delivery):
“Mr. President, yesterday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing gave us disturbing new information on the president’s Afghanistan debacle.
“Thanks to yesterday’s hearing, we now know that President Biden pulled troops from Afghanistan against the advice of his military commanders … and was less than truthful after the fact when asked about their recommendations.
“General Milley and General McKenzie’s testimony made clear that they had both recommended that the United States leave a small contingent of U.S. troops in the country – advice the president ignored.
“Mr. President, thanks to President Biden’s ill-considered withdrawal from Afghanistan, here’s the situation we find ourselves in:
“The Taliban is once again in control of Afghanistan.
“And just in case anyone thinks this is a kinder and gentler Taliban, let’s look at the facts.
“The Taliban has stocked its government with terrorists, including former inmates of Guantanamo Bay and members of the Haqqani network – a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization with a number of members on the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions list.
“Many of the members of the new Taliban Cabinet are on the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions list.
“And the government is well-stocked with pre-9/11 Taliban leaders – the same leaders who allowed Afghanistan to serve as a refuge for al-Qaeda.
“So that’s the new Taliban government.
“What is it doing?
“Well, in mid-September the Taliban announced that secondary schools would reopen … for boys.
“There was no mention of girls.
“A Taliban official announced that women would not be allowed to play any sport that might show their bodies.
“Women are being excluded from the workplace.
“In Helmand province, barbers have been barred from shaving or trimming beards.
“In one city, the body of an alleged criminal was hung from a crane in the city square, while in Kabul Taliban members brutally flogged a man accused of stealing a phone.
“And a senior Taliban leader announced the return of executions and the cutting off of hands as punishment.
“A kinder, gentler Taliban this is not.
“And this formerly somewhat ragtag group is now the possessor of a significant amount of U.S. military equipment – including weapons, combat vehicles, aircraft, and surveillance equipment – much of it acquired from the Afghan National Security Forces.
“And while the president might like to blame the Afghan forces for disbanding, the truth is he bears part of the responsibility for their collapse.
“For years, the U.S. trained and equipped Afghan troops to fight the way we do – including a reliance on close air support and a sophisticated intelligence-gathering operation.
“And the limited number of U.S. troops still in the country were playing an essential role in providing the intelligence, logistics, and air support the Afghan military needed.
“Then the president pulled all remaining U.S. support almost overnight.
“It’s no surprise that in the wake of that the Afghan military quickly collapsed.
“There’s no question that there were preexisting problems in the Afghan forces, including fraud and corruption.
“But the Afghan military was playing a key role in combating the Taliban and terrorist activity in Afghanistan.
“And it was the abrupt withdrawal of U.S. support that precipitated its collapse.
“Mr. President, thanks to the president’s withdrawal, our ability to combat terrorist activity in Afghanistan and the region has been significantly degraded, as General Milley’s testimony yesterday made clear.
“As the Washington Post reported, and I quote, “Al-Qaeda remnants are in Afghanistan and interested in growing, Milley said, but the United States no longer has military or intelligence assets on the ground to keep tabs on the militants. … The withdrawal ‘makes it much more difficult for us to conduct intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance,’ Milley said, including missions to locate militants.”
“In short, there is every reason to expect that Afghanistan will once again become a haven for terrorists.
“In fact, because of the huge number of weapons and equipment we’ve left behind, it’s probably more accurate to say Afghanistan will likely become a terrorist super-state.
“Meanwhile, as I said, our ability to effectively detect and defend against emerging threats in Afghanistan has been significantly diminished.
“There is no intelligence or counterterrorism strategy that will fully offset the loss of American boots on the ground.
“U.S. military and intelligence personnel still in the country, in coordination with our local partners, were playing a crucial role in providing intelligence on evolving terrorist threats in Afghanistan and throughout the region.
“That intelligence network is gone now.
“We no longer have human intelligence on-scene, and we no longer have any bases in-country from which to conduct operations.
“Future missions will have to be staged from distant bases or seaborne assets – complicating the mission and significantly increasing our response time.
“That’s not just an inconvenience, Mr. President.
“By compromising our ability to respond to terrorist activity, this withdrawal is endangering our country.
“For 20 years we’ve managed to prevent another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil.
“How long is that going to last when Afghanistan is once again a haven for terrorists and our intelligence and response capabilities have been permanently weakened?
“Mr. President, I haven’t even mentioned the damage that the president’s bungled withdrawal has done to our relationships with our allies.
“The president who was supposedly set to restore America’s standing in the world has instead presided over a national embarrassment that has left our allies wondering whether or not we will keep our commitments.
“We’ve damaged our credibility with our allies.
“And it’s clear that Russia and China are enjoying our humiliation on the world stage.
“Not to mention the way that our withdrawal has empowered our terrorist enemies.
“Ceding Afghanistan to the Taliban and its terrorist allies has not exactly made us look like an intimidating foe.
“It wouldn’t be surprising if terrorists are thinking that all they have to do in future battles is wait us out until we give up and withdraw.
“Mr. President, I’m sure the president would like to put his chaotic Afghanistan withdrawal behind him.
“But there’s a big problem with that: namely, the fact that his administration still has U.S. citizens left behind in Afghanistan.
“The administration has been hazy on the details – either because it’s not sure how many American citizens are left or because administration officials don’t want to give a number – but it’s clear that there are still a number of Americans stuck in Afghanistan.
“Then there are the tens of thousands of Afghans we abandoned – Afghans who were affiliated with the U.S. government or worked with the U.S. military and whom we promised to protect.
“These individuals – and their families – are currently in grave danger.
“My office continues working to evacuate a number of green card holders and at-risk Afghans to safe countries in the region, and several of the individuals we’re working with have received death threats from the Taliban.
“And while there are dedicated State Department and Defense Department personnel coordinating with veteran-led groups to evacuate Afghan citizens, the administration is still struggling to develop a clear plan for getting them out of the country.
“Mr. President, we still need to learn more about the chaotic U.S. evacuation, which resulted in the deaths of 13 U.S. service members and scores of Afghan civilians.
“But one thing is very clear.
“President Biden made an ill-considered and disastrous decision when he chose to withdraw our troops on an arbitrary timetable.
“And the Afghan people are currently suffering the consequences.
“And should Afghanistan once again become a terrorist haven – as seems likely – our country could also pay a deadly price.
“We have to make sure it doesn’t come to that.
“Mr. President, I yield the floor.”