U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell said during a Monday stop in Owensboro that the United States had been accomplishing its goals in Afghanistan by preventing the country from being a base for terrorists, prior to the Biden Administration’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops.
During an interview following his address to the Bluegrass Community Bankers Association at the Owensboro Convention Center, McConnell said pulling American forces out of Afghanistan is an “embarrassment.”
“It’s important to remember why we went there,” he said. “It was to prevent it from being a haven for al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorists groups, so they could not attack the United States again here at home. That’s why we went there, and it worked.”
McConnell, a Republican who is Kentucky’s senior senator and the Senate minority leader, has been an outspoken critic of President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw remaining troops from Afghanistan.
The U.S. invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, less than one month after the Sept. 11 al-Qaida attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The stated goal was to target al-Qaida and uproot the Taliban government giving shelter to the terrorist group and its leader, Osama bin Laden.
U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan ever since, and former President Donald Trump and Biden both supported withdrawing all troops from the country this year. Trump reduced troop levels to 2,500 by the end of his term in office, and Biden announced in July a goal of having all troops out by Aug. 31.
The withdrawal has caused chaos, with people desperate to leave the country as the Taliban has moved quickly to reclaim power as American forces exit.
McConnell said he argued against withdrawing from Afghanistan with President Barack Obama, Trump and Biden.
“We haven’t lost a single military personnel there in a year and a half, (and) if you’re looking at cost, it’s 1% of the Pentagon’s budget,” McConnell said. The U.S. mission in the country “wasn’t broken, and it didn’t need fixing,” he said.
The decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan was “a disastrous decision,” McConnell said. “It’s a stain on the reputation of the United States of America.”
According to the New York Times, 5,800 American troops were in Afghanistan as of Monday, helping with the evacuation of U.S. citizens and Afghans who have worked with the U.S. government.
McConnell said Biden “needs to have a successful evacuation, no excuses. Every single American who wants to get out needs to get out, and our Afghan allies.
“We owe it to our Afghan collaborators, interpreters and others who worked with the government, to give them an opportunity to have a new life somewhere else in the world,” McConnell said. “We should stay there until we get all the ones out that want to come out.”
On the COVID-19 pandemic, McConnell, who is an advocate for people taking the vaccine, said he was “perplexed” that it has been such a challenge to get people vaccinated.
“I didn’t anticipate it,” he said. The development of COVID vaccines in under a year was “a modern medical miracle.”
“As a result of the CARES Act we passed last year and the $50 billion we put into ‘Operation Warp Speed,’ we developed three highly-effective vaccines in less than one year ... It never occurred to me people would be reluctant to take it,” McConnell said.
“We’ve run into a snag here because of bad opinions and theories on social media. But here’s the truth: 90% of the people in the hospitals are unvaccinated. ... So the way forward is to continue to try to convince people to get vaccinated. That’s the only way we are ultimately going to get this experience in the rear view mirror.”
James Mayse, 270-691-7303, firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @JamesMayse