Rep. Michael Waltz discusses long-term impact of Afghanistan drawdown
In an interview with Fox News Digital, Rep. Michael Waltz, R-Fla., discusses mistakes and long-term impact of the U.S. military drawdown in Afghanistan two years later. Waltz sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
The U.S. continues to feel the ramifications of its rush to exit the two-decade Afghanistan campaign – a decision that signaled to America’s rivals that it “won’t stand with allies,” according to a House Armed Services committee member.
“It absolutely sent a message to our adversaries around the world that the United States won’t stand with allies,” Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., Chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services’ Subcommittee on Readiness, told Fox News Digital in an interview.
Waltz, a decorated veteran who served combat tours in Afghanistan as a Green Beret, said “If Biden was willing to leave Americans and tens of thousands of Afghan allies who fought alongside us, why in the hell should China or Russia think he wouldn’t do the same for Taiwan or Ukraine?” he added. “The consequences were enormous.”
The Taliban assumed control of Kabul – and the country as a whole – after President Biden ordered a hasty withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan that ended on Aug. 30, 2021.
A U.S. Air Force aircrew, assigned to the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, prepares to receive soldiers, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, to board a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft in support of the final noncombatant evacuation operation missions at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on Aug. 30, 2021. The U.S. airlifted 124,000 people out of Kabul over about six weeks as the American-backed Afghan military and government fell to the Taliban. (Senior Airman Taylor Crul/U.S. Air Force via AP, File)
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The international security landscape has since grown increasingly unstable, primarily with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine that started some six months after the U.S. left Afghanistan.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., told Fox News Digital the “debacle” of the drawdown “was entirely predictable,” showing “a failure of foresight and planning.” Moulton also serves on the House Armed Services committee and is U.S. Marine Corps veteran having served four tours of duty in Iraq.
“The most experienced American personnel on the ground weren’t surprised at all, yet their voices were drowned out by those in Washington under two successive Republican and Democratic administrations,” Moulton argued, stressing that “had they simply started the evacuation months earlier,” then “more lives would have been saved, and our reputation might have remained intact.”
Left, Taliban fighters take control of Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021 after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country. Right, President Biden speaks about COVID-19 vaccines in the South Court Auditorium at the White House complex on Aug. 23, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Zabi Karimi | Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
A National Security Council (NSC) spokesperson pushed back on the assertion that the way the drawdown played out emboldened competitor nations, arguing instead that “our true strategic competitors – China and Russia – would love nothing more than the United States continue to funnel billions of dollars in resources and attention into stabilizing Afghanistan indefinitely.”
The spokesperson noted that Biden faced a choice to “ramp up the war and put even more American troops at risk or finally end our involvement in the United States’ longest war after two decades … and $2 trillion spent” – an argument the administration has maintained in the two years since the drawdown.
The administration maintains that fully exiting Afghanistan “freed up critical military, intelligence and other resources and ensured we are better poised to confront today’s threats to international peace and stability – whether that be Russia’s brutal and unprovoked assault on Ukraine, China’s increasingly assertive moves in the Indo-Pacific and around the world or terrorist threats in regions around the world,” the NSC spokesperson added.
Foreigners board a Qatar Airways aircraft at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday, Sept. 9, 2021. Some 200 foreigners, including Americans, flew out of Afghanistan on an international commercial flight from Kabul airport on Thursday, the first such large-scale departure since U.S. and foreign forces concluded their frantic withdrawal at the end of last month. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue)
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“We have also demonstrated that we do not need a permanent troop presence on the ground in harm’s way to remain vigilant against terrorism threats or to remove the world’s most wanted terrorist from the earth,” the spokesman said.
Moulton supported this view, highlighting the “futile” effort to understand either Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese President Xi Jinping’s mentality, but agreed with arguments that “our withdrawal hurt the credibility of our military and our elected officials with both our allies and our adversaries.”
A view of the central square following shelling of the City Hall building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, March 1, 2022. (AP Photo/Pavel Dorogoy)
“We saw how it strained our relationship with our NATO allies, who, quite fairly, felt abandoned after our unilateral decision to withdraw,” Moulton said. “It is notable, however, that only six months later, Putin was surprised that NATO acted so swiftly and decisively in response to his criminal invasion of Ukraine.”
Biden maintained the plan to complete a military drawdown after then-President Trump had agreed the conditions as part of a peace deal with the Taliban. The U.S. had around 13,000 troops in Afghanistan at the time, and the deal included a roadmap for the country’s future, which linked the drawdown to Taliban promises to help fight terror in Afghanistan.
Hundreds of Afghans walk across the tarmac at Hamid Karzai International Airport on Aug. 16, 2021. (Naqib Mirzada)
As the U.S. started the drawdown, the Taliban seized the initiative and started to take territory from Afghanistan’s government, culminating in the Hamid Karzai International Airport suicide bombing.
The bombing killed 13 U.S. service members – 11 Marines, one Navy sailor and one Army soldier – and wounded 18 other U.S. service members. More than 150 civilians died as a result of the bombing.
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Waltz said he was skeptical about the Taliban’s commitment to Trump’s plan and “live up to their end of the bargain,” but that “at the end of the day, when President Trump’s team brought him those facts,” he planned to keep a small force at Bagram Air Base.
“For those who like to point at President Trump, at the end of the day, he didn’t do what Biden did. He listened to his generals,” Waltz said.
A gate is seen at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, Friday, June 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)
“Biden had no problem reversing all kinds of Trump policies on day one of his administration,” he continued. “He canceled the Keystone XL pipeline deal, lifted sanctions on Nord Stream 2, completely reversed policy on the border, got back into the Paris Accord, lifted maximum pressure on Iran and tried to get back into the Iran deal … I could keep going.”
“He had no problem reversing all of those Trump policies the first months of his administration, yet we’re supposed to believe that he was completely handcuffed and had his hands tied when it came to Afghanistan? I don’t buy it,” he stressed. “I think it’s a bunch of garbage.”
Taliban fighters patrol on the road during a celebration marking the second anniversary of the withdrawal of U.S.-led troops from Afghanistan, in Kandahar, south of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (AP/Abdul Khaliq)
Moulton noted that Biden’s plan had support from “the majority of Americans … essentially the same promise that Trump had made, but both went counter to most military advice.”
The lack of clarity surrounding the withdrawal has continued to plague the U.S. as rival nations – chiefly China and Russia – pursue aggressive foreign policy, ultimately leading to the invasion of Ukraine and unending posturing over the future of Taiwan.
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The difference between Afghanistan and Iraq, according to Waltz, is that the U.S. had bases as well as allies in nations such as Turkey, Jordan and Israel to help push back against the resurgence of ISIS. The U.S. could also turn to Kurdish forces to help supplement its military efforts.
The U.S. lacks those elements in Afghanistan. Military leaders including Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley, and Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, then head of U.S. Central Command, testified in the aftermath that they had advised Biden to maintain an operational force of 2,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base after the rest of the forces had departed.
U.S. Marines with Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force – Crisis Response – Central Command, provide assistance at an Evacuation Control Checkpoint during an evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 21. U.S. service members are assisting the Department of State with a non-combatant evacuation operation in Afghanistan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Staff Sgt. Victor Mancilla)
Both Gens. Milley and McKenzie during testimony before the Senator Armed Services Committee did not discuss specific details of their conversations with the president, but Milley stressed that he recommended keeping 2,500 – 3,500 troops in Afghanistan – an opinion that “remained consistent throughout” the drawdown.
The lack of such a force prevented the U.S. from fully evacuating every American citizen and many Afghan allies from the country, leaving them at the mercy of the Taliban, along with billions of dollars of equipment, which Waltz argued left “Biden, Blinken, Austin, [and] his administration with blood on their hands.”
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A Department of Defense spokesperson defended Austin’s commitment to the memory of the fallen from the Abbey Gate bombing, expressing how “profoundly grateful” he was to all troops that served in Afghanistan and … the effort of every American who contributed to keeping our safe,” including working towards “a brighter future for the Afghan people.”
A People’s Liberation Army member looks through binoculars during military exercises as Taiwan’s frigate Lan Yang is seen at the rear, on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022. China has repeatedly entered the waters and airspace of Taiwan in the past several weeks, Taiwan defense officials have said. (Lin Jian/Xinhua via AP)
Additionally, the spokesperson explained that the weapons left behind in Afghanistan were not U.S. military-owned equipment, but rather weapons and equipment “procured and transferred to the Afghan government via an established and rigorous security cooperation program.”
“These items were owned and operated by the previous Afghan government,” the spokesperson added.
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“To date, we have not seen strong evidence of significant proliferation of this materiel from Taliban stores, and we have not received any information from other governments concerned about the potential proliferation of heavy equipment, such as former Afghan military armored vehicles, artillery, or aircraft.”
Peter Aitken is a Fox News Digital reporter with a focus on national and global news.