U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, a Centennial Democrat, slammed the Biden administration Monday for the chaotic situation unfolding in Afghanistan as Afghans who helped American troops over the past two decades flee the Taliban’s rapid takeover.
“I’m not going to mince my words on this,” Crow, an Army veteran who fought in Afghanistan, said Monday during a news conference. “We didn’t need to be in this position. We didn’t need to be seeing the scenes that we’re seeing at Kabul airport with our Afghan friends climbing aboard C-17s.”
Crow was pushing the administration in April and May, after President Joe Biden began America’s military withdrawal from the country, to evacuate American-aligned Afghans, especially those who worked as translators for U.S. troops. He warned that any delay could cost people their lives.
In recent days, the Taliban have quickly advanced into Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.
Shocking images taken at the airport in Kabul over the weekend of Afghans trying to flee their country have drawn condemnation from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. Some videos appear to show Afghans who tried to cling onto C-17 military cargo planes falling to their death as the aircraft departed.
At least seven people died in the chaos at the airport.
Crow said he has “extreme concerns over the late nature in which this evacuation was started.”
“We should have started this evacuation months ago and had we done that tens of thousands of folks could have been brought to safety,” Crow said. “It could have been done deliberately and methodically. We think that was a missed opportunity.”
The congressman said securing the airport in Kabul and launching an air lift are still possible.
“We still have time to do the right thing,” Crow said. “But we have to do it today.”
The U.S. Embassy in Kabul has been abandoned and the American flag lowered, with diplomats relocating to the airport to help with the evacuation. Other Western countries also closed their missions and were flying out staff and their citizens.
In interviews with U.S. television networks, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan blamed the Afghan military for the Taliban’s rapid takeover, saying it lacked the will to fight.
However, the ease with which the Taliban took control goes beyond military prowess, the Texas-based private intelligence firm Stratfor wrote.
“The speed of the Taliban’s final advance suggests less military dominance than effective political insurgency coupled with an incohesive Afghan political system and security force struggling with flagging morale,” it said.
The Taliban offensive through the country stunned American officials. Just days before the insurgents entered Kabul with little if any resistance, a U.S. military assessment predicted it could take months for the capital to fall.
The rout threatened to erase 20 years of Western efforts to remake Afghanistan that saw tens of thousands of Afghans killed as well as more than 3,500 U.S. and allied troops. The initial invasion in 2001 drove the Taliban from power and scattered al-Qaida, which had planned the 9/11 attacks while being sheltered in Afghanistan.
Under the Taliban, which ruled in accordance with a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, women were largely confined to their homes and suspected criminals faced amputation or public execution. The insurgents have sought to project greater moderation in recent years, but many Afghans remain skeptical.
Biden, speaking to the nation on Monday, said he stands “squarely behind my decision” to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. He admitted, however, that the Taliban’s sweep across the country happened faster than he expected.
“American troops cannot and should not be fighting in a war and dying in a war that Afghan forces are not willing to fight for themselves,” Biden said.
The president said American military boots on the ground would not have made a difference in preparing the Afghans to battle the Taliban.
Biden said one of the reasons more Afghans weren’t evacuated sooner is because they didn’t want to leave and were “still hopeful for their country.”
“Part of it was 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.
Biden said that while it has been “hard and messy,” he has honored his commitment to get America out of Afghanistan.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.