Fort Report with Jeff Fortenberry
Over the past week, Americans watched in disbelief and horror as a barbaric entity called the Taliban bum rushed Afghanistan and swiftly captured its capital of Kabul. The purported 300,000-person, America-trained, Afghan security force collapsed almost overnight. After Afghan President Ashraf Ghani fled the country, Taliban fighters occupied the Afghan Presidential Palace, as thousands of frightened Afghanis climbed walls, fought through checkpoints, and dangled desperately from departing U.S. aircraft in hopes of escaping the coming terror. Those trapped in landing gear were crushed. Others fell from aircraft to their death. It marked a stunning and disheartening end to America’s longest war.
As Taliban leaders assured the world they would protect the rights of women and children within their medieval “framework of Islam,” deadly reprisals against non-believers and those who cooperated with America had already begun, as young girls were pulled from houses as bounty for conquering warriors. On Wednesday, in stunning, almost surreal, press conferences, our leadership basically said that any American, let alone Afghani, trapped outside the boundaries of the airport in Kabul was on their own. The Pentagon later added that they could not ensure the safe passage of any American to the airport. This is a point of ongoing contention with Congress, as we all scramble to assist Americans. Thankfully, as I write this, the President made a clearer commitment to those trapped.
While we can take some solace in the fact that our military lethally repressed the enemy after 9/11, kept them at bay for 20 years, and gave a chance for a new Afghanistan, it’s hard to get one’s mind around this disastrous end to a conflict in which over 2,400 American troops lost their lives, with over 20,000 more wounded. I am upset. You’re upset. Our veterans are particularly upset.
In another leading indicator of the state of our world, Communist China moved quickly to embrace the Taliban, issuing an ominous warning through state-run media: “From what happened in Afghanistan, those in Taiwan should perceive that once a war breaks out in the Straits, the island’s defense will collapse in hours and U.S. military won’t come to help.” This has all deeply damaged America’s credibility around the world.
We can save the post-mortems for another day. The job now is to get every American out, with no more mixed messages about whether we will be there for them or not. The message needs to be unequivocal and clear: we will not leave any American, let alone any Afghani who worked on behalf of America, behind.
Looking back, Afghanistan was supposed to be “The Good War.” Iraq was “The Bad War.” Due to quiet American leadership in Iraq, a renewed sense of Iraqi nationalism, and the willingness of Iraqi troops to fight, Iraq has a chance to emerge as a stabilized member of the responsible community of nations. Afghanistan, “the graveyard of empires,” is again ruled by a genocidal theocratic mob, upon whom the United States is now dependent to ensure the safe evacuation of our citizens, our allies, and Afghans who courageously stood by us. The principles of civilization are fragile things indeed.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (NE-01) is a Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations.