08.24.21

Senator Patrick Leahy On The Calamity In Afghanistan

We have all watched in dismay as the Taliban have taken control of Kabul triggering a humanitarian crisis.  Tens of thousands of desperate people, including American citizens, Afghans who courageously supported U.S. forces and aid workers, and others at risk have sought safety at the Kabul Airport and the United States and our allies are conducting an unprecedented air evacuation.  The scenes are extraordinarily heartbreaking and infuriating, and there is plenty of blame to go around for a failed nation-building mission and the sudden collapse of the Afghan government and military.  

During the past 20 years, thanks to the efforts of countless Americans and others, including brave service and sacrifice by Vermonters in our National Guard, other branches of the Armed Forces, and other dedicated Americans, the Afghan people, especially women and girls, experienced freedom, opportunities, and hope long denied under the Taliban.  But in a tribal society with a long tradition of settling scores, the notion that a corrupt central government comprised largely of one faction could be a unifying force was delusional. 

In addition to thousands of American casualties, the Afghan people suffered terribly during the war.  Tens of thousands lost their lives and many more lost their livelihoods.  The decision to withdraw U.S. forces, first made by President Trump and now implemented by President Biden, created a chaotic situation as the Taliban consolidate their control, going house to house in search of those who collaborated with the United States.  Recognizing a disaster in the making, as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee I included in the Capitol Security Supplemental Appropriations Bill, signed by President Biden on July 30, 2021, an additional $1.1 billion for evacuations of American citizens and resettlement of Afghans, and another $600 million for aid to Afghans displaced in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.  Given the scale of the evacuation now underway and the additional expense of resettling tens of thousands of people, it is clear that more funds will be needed.

This is a tragic end to a costly, misguided war.  After the evacuation is behind us, it is imperative that we identify the many flawed assumptions and decisions that triggered and perpetuated this debacle, and learn the lessons of our mistakes, something we failed to do after Vietnam.  But most immediately, we must do everything we can to rescue Afghans who risked their lives to support us during the war, and those who participated in U.S.-funded programs and are at heightened risk, including women judges, journalists, scholars, and human rights defenders.  They now face an uncertain future, and many may never set foot in their country again.  I am confident that Vermonters, who have a long tradition of stepping forward when called upon, will once again join others in welcoming these newest refugees into our communities and help them rebuild their lives in safety.    

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