Condemning U.S. military action in Afghanistan as an abject and deadly failure, the Congressional Progressive Caucus on Tuesday pressed the Biden administration to engage in diplomacy with the emerging Taliban government and provide as much humanitarian aid as possible to the countless civilians devastated by the past two decades of war.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the CPC, reiterated her caucus’ support for the ongoing withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan as the Biden administration faces criticism from Republicans and members of his own party over how the exit has unfolded.
“We continue to maintain, as the White House clearly does, that even after spending $1 trillion, sending hundreds of thousands of troops into Afghanistan over 20 years, and losing 2,300 American lives, the United States could not have averted this outcome without an endless military presence,” Jayapal said in a statement, referring to the former U.S.-backed Afghan regime’s rapid fall to the Taliban, which took control of the capital of Kabul over the weekend and is currently in talks to form a new government.
President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Jayapal noted, is “overwhelmingly supported by the American people, with recent polling showing 70% of the country, with bipartisan majorities, supported his plan to withdraw all troops by September 11, 2021.”
“Despite this consensus, congressional Republicans have disingenuously chosen to play politics at this moment,” the Washington Democrat said. “Republican administrations began the war in Afghanistan, controlled it for 12 of the past 20 years, and initiated the peace process with the Taliban last year that led to an agreement for a U.S. withdrawal. They should participate in the needed examination of why 20 years of war have failed, rather than playing the blame game. Our focus now must be on the human beings on the receiving end of this policy.”
With millions of Afghans internally displaced and in need of humanitarian aid — and as thousands, including many women and children, attempt to flee the country — the CPC is calling on the Biden administration to “go farther” and “work faster” in its efforts to provide assistance to desperate civilians.
“The United States must ensure refugee processing moves forward without bureaucratic delay, and with special allowances recognizing the difficulty for people to leave Afghanistan,” said Jayapal. “In addition to the State Department’s work to expedite Special Immigrant Visas, we must also expand these visas and grant Temporary Protected Status to Afghans residing in the United States. We must increase humanitarian aid to support civilians who fled to Kabul and provincial capitals and are without shelter, food, medical assistance, or vaccines.”
“Finally, we urge the Biden administration to continue engaging diplomatically with the Taliban and regional actors to avoid further bloodshed, protect human rights, and avoid mass migration and instability,” Jayapal added. “This means cooperating with aid agencies, the United Nations, and neighboring countries with an interest in a positive outcome, including Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey.”
The U.S. shuttered its embassy in Kabul as the Taliban closed in on Afghan capital over the weekend, and the Biden administration is currently in the process of evacuating American diplomats from the country as it moves to end the disastrous — but, for some, immensely profitable — twenty-year occupation.
While U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price said during abriefing Tuesday that the Biden administration intends to pursue diplomacy and a “political settlement” in Afghanistan despite the withdrawal of embassy staff, he warned that the U.S. — in partnership with the international community — could impose “significant costs” on the Taliban government if it “does not respect the basic rights of its people,” a reference to possible economic sanctions.
As the Washington Post reported Tuesday, the Biden administration has frozen “Afghan government reserves held in U.S. bank accounts, blocking the Taliban from accessing billions of dollars held in U.S. institutions.”
The move prompted concern that the administration may be planning additional economic measures that could hinder the flow of badly needed humanitarian aid in Afghanistan, where an estimated18 million people are in dire need of assistance.
Adam Smith, who served on the National Security Council during the Obama administration, told the Post that “it could be cataclysmic for Afghanistan if the administration does not handle the sanctions issue deftly.”
“This is a potentially serious humanitarian issue that I am hoping people in our government are thinking long and hard about,” Smith said.
In a statement earlier this week, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) — the CPC whip and a Somali refugee — said that U.S. has an “obligation” to help redress the humanitarian crises stemming from “the fundamental failures of our Afghanistan policy over the course of many decades and four presidencies.”
“Of course, the tragedy did not begin in the last couple of weeks. The hard truth about America’s longest war is that for 20 years, we made promises we couldn’t keep,” said Omar. “The simple fact is that prolonging a war indefinitely would not have delivered a stable, peaceful Afghanistan. I agree with President Biden: an endless American military occupation of Afghanistan was unacceptable. “
“War and conflict never produce peace and stability,” Omar added. “Violence and militarism, even when cloaked in the language of humanitarianism, are fundamentally at odds with human flourishing and opportunity. Violence only produces trauma, trauma that can turn into anger, vengefulness, and a continuing cycle of violence. That must be a lesson as we deal with conflicts around the world.”