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‘Sickening and dispiriting image’: Sullivan says Kabul scenes a gift for Taliban

Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.
Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska.
Published: Aug. 16, 2021 at 6:12 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Sen. Dan Sullivan, one of the few members of Congress who has served active duty in the armed forces in the era of the War on Terror, is speaking out against the scenes coming out of Kabul, Afghanistan in the wake of the United States’ withdrawal from the country nearly two decades after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Sullivan, a Republican and member of the Senate’s Armed Services committee, says President Joe Biden’s withdrawal of troops was executed poorly and left a dispiriting pall for American citizens still in Afghanistan, Afghan troops, and Afghan citizens who worked for the U.S. either at the embassy, or in other capacities.

“We’re coming up on the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 and unfortunately, I think we’re going to be in a much less safe position in regards to international terrorism than we’ve been in a long time because of what is clearly going to be viewed as a Taliban victory,” Sullivan told Alaska’s News Source on Monday.

Sullivan said the past four presidential administrations — both Republican and Democrat — had made mistakes, and achieved some security, “but if on the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11 the Taliban flag is flying over the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, that’s going to be Joe Biden’s sole responsibility for what I think most Americans would view as a sickening and dispiriting image,” he said.

During his address to the nation Monday, Biden indicated that Monday’s chaos and the Taliban’s re-taking of the country was an inevitable result, whether the U.S. withdrew in 2021, five years ago, or 15 years from now. Sullivan called the execution of Biden’s plan “botched” and said Americans still in country are now stuck behind Taliban-controlled lines.

As for the Taliban’s pledges not to harm Americans, soldiers and others, Sullivan said he doesn’t trust the Taliban’s promises.

“Whatever the Taliban is saying to anybody, we shouldn’t believe them,” Sullivan said. “In the other cities, they are undertaking retribution, and the No. 1 target there are (Afghans), a lot of the times women, who helped our troops, helped our state department, and helped women’s education — they’re goin to be the No. 1 target.”

Sullivan said the administration should have implemented a conditions-based withdrawal, not a set date.

“They need to do that not on a certain date, but on certain conditions being met, particularly as it relates to security. They didn’t do that,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan says U.S. goals now need to be securing the airport, getting all Americans out, and helping Afghans who helped the U.S.

Another effect of the withdrawal, Sullivan said, is an intelligence hole in the U.S. arsenal.

“If we don’t have an embassy there, not only are we not going to have embassy personnel or military personnel, all of our intel assets that are connected to the embassy are also going to be gone,” Sullivan said. “We’re going to be, in my view, in a really critical area of the world, blind. What does that mean? I think this is going to be a huge propaganda victory for the Taliban and once again the risk of Afghanistan becoming a safe haven for terrorists like Al-Qaeda is going to grow, I think dramatically.”

After 20 years at war and more than 2,500 U.S. military members giving the ultimate sacrifice, Sullivan says that gold star families and injured military members need to be assured that their sacrifice was not in vain. It’s a message he thinks is missing from the administration’s message Monday.

“As commander in chief, what I thought he had to do no matter the circumstances, was to look the American people in the eye and say something very important: That tens of thousands of American servicemen and women, including thousands of Alaskans, who have served overseas in Afghanistan, some of whom have given the ultimate sacrifice, and these gold star families, these grieving families — to tell them that their sacrifice has not been in vain.”

For American and Alaskan families who lost loved ones fighting in Afghanistan, seeing the events unfold in that country can feel devastating. Bonnie Carroll, an Alaskan who founded an organization called Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, said many are questioning whether the sacrifices their loved ones made were worth it.

“TAPS has received an outpouring of emotions from those who have lost loved ones in Afghanistan, but who have also lost loved ones who brought the war home with them and have died to suicide, or illness, or exposure, or injuries,” she said. “It’s a very difficult time right now, but for our families we are wrapping our arms around them, we are letting them know that their life and their service mattered, and we are just saying prayers for the people of Afghanistan.”

Carroll said there is help for people who are suffering, or who are triggered by events in Afghanistan. She encouraged survivors to reach out to her organization 24/7 at 800-959-TAPS (8277). The Veterans Crisis Line also offers 24-hour support to veterans at 1-800-273-8255.

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