Some Democrats also sharply questioned the way Biden executed the decision — while still supporting the goal of ending America’s two-decade entanglement. But most stopped short of blaming him directly and urged a focus on rescuing Americans and Afghan allies, especially women now facing a return to a brutal, fundamentalist rule. They said the failures in Afghanistan belong to leaders of both parties who have overseen America’s long slog.
One thing they all agreed on: The human repercussions will be tragic.
“This is an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions, for the US & the World,” tweeted Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from Bucks County. “This is a direct result of a complete failure of leadership by those in government who don’t have the first clue about national & international security & the importance of peace through strength.”
Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) raised concerns in April about the Afghan government’s ability to hold the country. On Sunday, he said, “The miscalculation to rapidly withdraw our forces to meet symbolic rather than strategic deadlines has created a rapidly unfolding humanitarian disaster that will lead to only more pain and suffering for the people of Afghanistan.”
Even among some Democrats, there was frustration with how Biden removed U.S. troops — and the lack of foresight about what followed.
“I don’t think we had enough of a plan for getting people out of there while it was still safe to do so. And that really worries me,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D., Pa.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee from the Lehigh Valley. “I criticized President Trump for what happened with the Kurds in Syria and I will criticize this administration for the same thing. We don’t abandon our friends — not just our friends, but our allies, people who work right alongside our troops. … It affects our credibility as a nation.”
Wild supported Biden’s end goal but said Congress needs answers about what went wrong.
“We were told just a few days ago that it wasn’t going to look like Vietnam, and Kabul was not going to fall precipitously,” Wild said in an interview, pointing back to Biden’s own words. “And of course, if anything it’s fallen even more quickly than Saigon did.”
Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D., Pa.), an Air Force veteran and House Foreign Affairs Committee member from Chester County, said: “These past few days have been difficult to process, and not because the Taliban’s progress was surprising. In fact, the opposite. We sounded the alarm, and our dire warnings fell on deaf ears.”
Biden and some other Democrats noted that former President Donald Trump had signed a deal with the Taliban and planned an even earlier withdrawal, by May 1. Trump boasted as recently as last month that he had started a process he said would be impossible to stop. Many Republicans had cheered that decision.
But Biden is now in charge, and he has shown little hesitation to reverse other Trump policies.
Republicans who had backed Trump said Biden should have carried out the withdrawal more carefully.
“This rests solely at the end of the day with the commander-in-chief,” Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.), a veteran of the second Iraq war who represents the Harrisburg area, said in an interview. “Whether he’s gotten bad advice or hasn’t taken good advice, you run for office and you have to own the decisions you make.”
Yet Republicans were eager to lay blame Monday, while many Democrats usually happy to talk about Biden’s agenda were unavailable, according to aides.
Public comments from Sen. Bob Menendez (D., N.J.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, were limited to a handful of tweets. They didn’t address Biden’s decision but called for protecting troops, diplomats, women, and activists. Late in the day he released a letter signed by 45 other senators also urging Biden to protect Afghan women leaders.
Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.), a close Biden ally, issued a statement saying, “This is not the time for the usual Washington finger pointing and pontificating; our immediate priority must be to safely evacuate the Americans, women leaders, activists and human rights defenders who are being targeted by the Taliban.”
After that, he said, “Congress should conduct a full review of mistakes made in Afghanistan over the course of 20 years.”
For some veterans and national security experts, the failure was deeply personal.
Rep. Andy Kim (D., N.J.) served as a national security advisor in the Obama administration and worked in Afghanistan for about six months in 2011.
For days, he said, he’s fielded nonstop calls, emails, and texts from desperate embassy workers and others. Even when someone, their spouse, and children can be cleared to be evacuated, he said, the next question might be, “What about my mother?”
“It’s tough to hear,” Kim said. “I make no promises to anybody.”
He didn’t blame Biden specifically, saying, “This is a 20-year war. … We own that failure as a nation. Right now I’m just trying to think about what we can do to make a tangible difference for the people who are there.”
Some reflected on the personal sacrifices lost.
Constituents who served in Afghanistan “are beside themselves,” said Rep. Dan Meuser, a Northeastern Pennsylvania Republican who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “They’re depressed, they’re frustrated, they’re furious. They’re grieving.”
“I’ve heard from [military] members who’ve retired and they’re wondering what their sacrifices were about,” Perry said.
Houlahan has also heard from those questioning their service.
“On behalf of our grateful community and nation, let me say as clearly as I can: You changed lives. You protected our homeland from terrorism,” she said.
The issue spilled into Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senate race. Democrats’ usually active Twitter feeds said relatively little about the crisis.
“What we are seeing unfold in Afghanistan right now is devastating,” tweeted Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh, one of the only Democratic candidates who directly addressed the issue. “The most important priority right now must be the safe evacuation of Americans, partners, and allies.”
Another candidate, Rep. Conor Lamb (D., Pa.), tweeted about dedicating a local post office Monday to an Air Force serviceman killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, without commenting on the withdrawal.
Republican contenders ripped Biden’s decision.
“Welcome to Barack Obama’s third term,” tweeted Jeff Bartos. “The same geniuses who oversaw withdrawal from Iraq (giving rise to ISIS) clearly learned nothing from their past mistakes.”
Sean Parnell quickly released a digital ad emphasizing his time as an Army Ranger.
“As someone who spent 485 days in combat in Afghanistan and was wounded in action, I believe it’s long past time to bring our troops home,” Parnell said in a statement. “But Joe Biden has completely failed to properly execute the withdrawal.”