Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called the tumultuous American withdrawal from Afghanistan and the swift reconquest of that country by the Taliban “an embarrassment” and a “stain on our national reputation” Tuesday evening.
McConnell, long an advocate of keeping US forces in the country, insisted on Fox News’ “Special Report” that the longtime strategy of keeping a rump force of 2,500 to hold the Taliban and other insurgent groups at bay “was working.”
“We were spending about one percent of the Pentagon budget every year to keep the lid on in Afghanistan. We hadn’t lost a single American soldier in combat in the last year,” he told host Bret Baier. “It was working. It was working because we went there to prevent Al Qaeda from being back in full operational mode under the Taliban, and to sort of keep the lid on.”
“That’s the most we could have hoped for in Afghanistan,” McConnell added later in the interview. “Nobody thought we were going to create a Jeffersonian, Western-style democracy there.”
After a weekend of horrifying images of Afghans attempting to hitch a ride on departing American military planes by clinging to the outside of aircraft, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters at the White House Tuesday that the Taliban had agreed to allow “safe passage” to all those attempting to make it to Hamid Karzai International Airport on the outskirts of Kabul in the hope of getting on an outbound flight.
While Sullivan acknowledged reports that civilians were “being turned away or pushed back or even beaten” by Taliban fighters manning checkpoints, he insisted that “very large numbers” had made it through and the US was taking up the problem of getting the rest out with the Islamic fundamentalist group.
At the Pentagon, Joint Chiefs of Staff logistics specialist Maj. Gen. Hank Taylor told reporters Tuesday that more than 4,000 American forces were on the ground in Kabul — a number that is expected to top 6,000 in the coming days — and between 700 and 800 passengers had left the airport overnight on seven C-17 flights.
“Right now, we’re looking at one aircraft per hour in and out,” Taylor said. “We predict that our best effort could look like 5,000 to 9,000 passengers departing per day, but we are mindful that a number of factors influence this effort, and circumstances could change.”
McConnell estimated that there remain “up to 15,000 Americans stranded out in the country, and who presumably have to beg the Taliban to let them get to the airport, not to mention the interpreters who worked with us, and other Afghans who are in danger because they cooperated with us.
“All of this is the aftermath of the decision, first to withdraw, and then to withdraw in a precipitous and incompetent way,” he added before calling the anarchic scenes “entirely predictable.”
“The only question was how quickly would it happen and I’m, frankly not surprised that there’s a total collapse,” McConnell said, later adding: “When we left, our European allies left, [and] the president immediately said we’re leaving quickly, the Afghan military knew at that point, they were on their own. And so, we are back to where we were … prior to 2001.”
In remarks from the East Room of the White House Monday, President Joe Biden admitted that the Taliban advance across the country happened “more quickly than we anticipated” before casting blame for the slow pace of evacuations on Afghan civilians who were “still hopeful for their country” and the Afghan government, which the president said sought to avoid a “crisis of confidence.”
McConnell did not buy that line, insisting that the White House “couldn’t organize a two-car funeral.”
“They had plenty of time to at least plan an evacuation that had a chance to be successful,” he said. “So far, this evacuation has failed.”