NPR’s Audie Cornish talks with Congressman Steve Chabot, a ranking member of the foreign affairs subcommittee overseeing Afghanistan, about Thursday’s bombings and President Biden’s speech.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
President Biden spoke late this afternoon on the events in Afghanistan today. He called the fallen U.S. service people part of a great, noble company of heroes. He pledged the U.S. evacuation would continue, and he vowed to hunt down the group responsible for the suicide attacks. For more reaction, let’s bring in Congressman Steve Chabot. He’s a Republican from Ohio. He’s also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. That’s a ranking member of the subcommittee overseeing Afghanistan as well.
Welcome to the program.
STEVE CHABOT: Thank you. Good evening.
CORNISH: Recently, when you spoke with NPR, you called on President Biden to take responsibility for how events have been unfolding with this withdrawal process. Did you hear him do that in his address this afternoon?
CHABOT: No. Once again, he’s basically putting the blame elsewhere. And I think the important thing to remember that in the last year and a half, we had not suffered one military – an American casualty. And today, in this chaotic debacle of a pullout, we suffered at least 13, in addition to that, obviously, the dozens and dozens of Afghans, mostly our allies, who were killed as well. So this was a tragic…
CORNISH: So what do you attribute to that? The responsibility is being claimed by ISIS-K. Can you talk about how this squares with what you know about what’s going on?
CHABOT: Well, certainly at this point, whereas we had the Taliban that we were fighting – and we were doing that because we didn’t want to have a safe haven for terrorists to attack us in other parts of the world or here at home. We’ve now got the worst of the worst gathering there. And the Taliban is not able to either control folks like ISIS. You also have al-Qaida. In the previous administration, the deal was they wanted to pull out but only if al-Qaida and Taliban had their coordination cut off and they weren’t working together. Well, now they’re both there. They’re working together. We’re going to have terrorist groups from all over the world gathering there…
CORNISH: But I want to clarify what’s going on because people are hearing a blitz of names here.
CORNISH: You’re talking about what was in the agreement – that the Taliban cut ties with groups like al-Qaida. Today, what President Biden was arguing was that it is in the Taliban’s interest right now to prevent the – he said for ISIS-K to metastasize. He said that it’s in their interest for that not to happen as well. How did you hear his idea of how the Taliban might approach this?
CHABOT: Well, that’s what he says. But the bottom line is the terrorists are there. Al-Qaida is there. The understanding was that we would pull out if those folks were out of there. They’re in there in spades. And now they’ve got much more sophisticated equipment, American U.S. military equipment, to use against us, not only there but probably in the next months and years all across the globe. So this is…
CORNISH: And you’re talking about terrorists in general right now.
CHABOT: Sure. You’ll have terrorist organizations across the country that will basically have a safe haven there, and they will be able to attack us not only there in that country and in the region but all across the globe. That was the reason that we went in after Sept. 11 to begin with, to make sure that there wasn’t a safe haven for terrorists because they had attacked us from there. Now they’re even going to be better equipped and we have a safe haven. Now, fortunately, for the last 20 years – and for those that say, well, we didn’t accomplish anything, and our military personnel over there – the lives that we lost were all in vain – they kept us safe, those brave men and women that fought and many who died there over the last two decades. We didn’t have a major attack on American soil during that period of time.
CORNISH: I want to jump in here because the president also vowed that the U.S. would, as he said, hunt down the perpetrators of the attacks. How did you understand that working?
CHABOT: Well, that certainly is something that we ought to do, so I commend him at least for saying we’re going to hunt them down. The problem is our military is going to be out, and he’s sticking to this deadline. So how in the world…
CORNISH: So he’s saying that it would not happen with a large troop presence, but it would happen with some sort of smaller force, he says, wherever they may be. So it doesn’t sound like he’s saying that nothing will happen. It sounds like he has some sort of strategy that would happen that does not involve a large mass of troops.
CHABOT: Well, he’s – the president says he has a strategy – is the same president who said that, well, we’re not going to see helicopters on the embassy roof in Afghanistan like we saw in Vietnam. And then we saw helicopters taking people from the embassy to the airport. And now the airport is in a chaotic situation. The same president that said that Americans weren’t having any trouble getting to the airport – they were – the same president who said that our allies across the globe weren’t critical when, in fact, they virtually all were. So we got a president who says something, but unfortunately, the facts have been very different recently.
CORNISH: That’s Republican Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio. He’s also a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. We spoke to him today about the attacks in Afghanistan and President Biden’s response.
Thank you for your time.
CHABOT: Thank you very much.
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