This week marked the 20th anniversary of the launch of the U.S. military offensive in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al Qaeda in response to their ruthless attack on America. As a result of our nation’s resolve, and the sacrifice and service of our brave men and women over the past two decades, Osama bin Laden is dead and our homeland has been guarded against additional large scale terror attacks. And up until President Joe Biden’s sloppy and poorly planned exit from Afghanistan, al Qaeda and the Taliban were on the run.
Today, due to the decisions of President Biden, the radical extremists that sponsored Osama bin Laden and partnered with al Qaeda, are back in power.
It became apparent after I questioned our top military leaders at last week’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that President Biden made a completely unconditional withdrawal. It’s also now clear that President Biden casually dismissed the sound advice of his own military leaders to do so—he discounted the tactical and strategic value of keeping a small force in place to defeat the terrorists.
As a result, President Biden abandoned American citizens behind enemy lines, left strong allies and partners to fend for themselves against the Taliban, tarnished America’s reputation, and created the conditions that led to the devastating loss of 13 brave American servicemembers. He stubbornly led our country into the most disastrous diplomatic and military debacle in modern American history.
Now, nearly half of the new Afghan government is comprised of terrorists who are on the United Nations Security Council’s Terrorism Blacklist, including the acting prime minister and both of his deputies. At least two principal members of the Haqqani Network, a U.S. designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, are in the highest positions of the Taliban’s new government. President Biden’s decisions put America’s Most Wanted back in charge of a terrorist training ground and increased the risk of attacks against our homeland. And in his rush for the exits, the president left these terrorists with tens of billions of dollars’ worth of military weapons and gear—all that can now be used against us.
But it’s not just weapons and military capabilities. President Biden left behind our own citizens stranded in a foreign country governed by known terrorists. Americans and our Afghan partners who worked with us – interpreters and translators – are sitting ducks for the Taliban. I’ve asked repeatedly for an accurate accounting of who and how many are still left, but the Pentagon just points the finger at the State Department, who then goes radio silent.
Unfortunately, we’re continuing to face more problems from President Biden’s hasty withdrawal. Last week it was reported that at least 700 Afghan evacuees have left military bases before undergoing proper and necessary vetting—putting the safety of Iowans and all Americans at risk. In response, I called on Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to pause relocating any more Afghan evacuees to the United States, except for fully-vetted Afghans holding Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs), and to complete all appropriate vetting procedures at safe locations abroad.
We also need to ensure we are not letting bad actors take advantage of this botched withdrawal and our strained immigration system. A key challenge and easy fix we must address immediately is ensuring sexual predators and criminals are identified, stopped, and deported. This week, I introduced the “BE GONE” Act, a bill that would make “sexual assault and aggravated sexual violence” a disqualifying act for those seeking to immigrate to the United States. The recent assaults at a military base housing Afghan refugees underscores the need for this important legislation.
During his campaign, President Biden promised a return to normalcy. Little did we know that meant a return to vulnerability, and an America that is less safe from the terrorists that attacked our homeland 20 years ago. I’ll continue working to hold the Administration accountable for the mess they’ve created and ensure we are taking steps to protect our homeland from the new threats we now face.
Joni Ernst, a native of Red Oak and a combat veteran, represents Iowa in the United States Senate.