“A Courageous Decision”: Rep. Ro Khanna Praises Biden’s Plan to End the “Forever War” in Afghanistan

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Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna says President Joe Biden’s plan to pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan is a “courageous” decision. “I’m very glad that we have a president who has finally recognized that this is not a militarily winnable war,” says Khanna. President Biden announced this week he plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, bringing the longest war in U.S. history to a close. Khanna says he is open to a U.N. peacekeeping force, as some have suggested, to ensure Afghanistan does not fall into deeper chaos once American troops leave. “Withdrawing militarily does not mean that we can stop engaging,” says Khanna.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden has vowed to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Biden spoke Wednesday from the Treaty Room at the White House, the same room where President George W. Bush announced the start of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago, beginning what’s become the longest war in U.S. history.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan, hoping to create ideal conditions for the withdrawal and expecting a different result. I’m now the fourth United States president to preside over American troop presence in Afghanistan: two Republicans, two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility on to a fifth.

After consulting closely with our allies and partners, with our military leaders and intelligence personnel, with our diplomats and our development experts, with the Congress and the vice president, as well as with Mr. Ghani and many others around the world, I have concluded that it’s time to end America’s longest war. It’s time for American troops to come home.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden went on to say the 20-year war has succeeded in preventing Afghanistan from being used again as a base to carry out attacks against the United States. He rejected arguments from critics who say it’s too soon to withdraw.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: So, when will it be the right moment to leave? One more year? Two more years? Ten more years? Ten, 20, 30 billion dollars more above the trillion we’ve already spent? “Not now”? That’s how we got here. And in this moment, there’s a significant downside risk to staying beyond May 1st without a clear timetable for departure.

If we instead pursue the approach where America — U.S. exit is tied to conditions on the ground, we have to have clear answers to the following questions: Just what conditions will require to — be required to allow us to depart? By what means and how long would it take to achieve them, if they could be achieved at all? And at what additional cost in lives and treasure? I’ve not heard any good answers to these questions. And if you can’t answer them, in my view, we should not stay. …

War in Afghanistan was never meant to be a multigenerational undertaking. We were attacked. We went to war with clear goals. We achieved those objectives. Bin Laden is dead, and al-Qaeda is degraded in Iraq — in Afghanistan. And it’s time to end the forever war.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, the Taliban threatened to target U.S. forces because Biden is reneging on a deal reached by the Trump administration to withdraw all U.S. troops by May 1st. While Biden is vowing to withdraw all troops by September 11th, The New York Times is reporting it will unlikely be a full withdrawal. Citing former and current officials, the Times reports the United States is expected to keep relying on a, quote, “shadowy combination of clandestine Special Operations forces, Pentagon contractors and covert intelligence operatives” inside Afghanistan. The Pentagon has an estimated 18,000 contractors in Afghanistan.

Over the past 20 years of war, 100,000 Afghan civilians have been killed, along with 45,000 members of the Afghan army and police, and at least 3,500 U.S. and coalition troops. Brown University’s Costs of War Project has estimated the U.S. has spent $2.3 trillion in Afghanistan.

We turn right now to Congressmember Ro Khanna. Congressmember Ro Khanna has long been a critic of the Pentagon budget and also the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Your response to what Biden has done? Congressman Ro Khanna, welcome.

REP. RO KHANNA: Thank you, Amy.

It’s a courageous decision. The reporting suggests that the president overruled advice from his own military best. It is a complete withdrawal of troops, including Special Operation troops. Senator Sanders and I have an op-ed coming out in The Washington Post supporting the president’s decision. But I am very glad that we have a president who has finally recognized that this is not a militarily winnable war, that we’re spending $50 billion there, that it’s leading to more deaths, as you pointed out, of the Afghan civilians, and it’s putting our troops at risk. So, this was the right decision, and I will be standing up for it.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Congressmember Khanna, we just learned today that Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Afghanistan on a surprise visit. What do we know about why he’s there and what kinds of discussions are ongoing? He has met with President Ashraf Ghani.

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, I think he is probably trying to accomplish three things: first, making sure that the Taliban has a power-sharing agreement; second, that there is a recognition of women’s rights and human rights as part of that agreement; and third, making it clear that while the United States is withdrawing our troops by the September 11th deadline, that there are no attacks on troops or threats on troops, that that would be extraordinarily counterproductive to our withdrawal. And my sense is that the secretary of state is probably making those points and working towards those objectives.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Congressmember Khanna, there also — there have been concerns expressed by some Afghans that even though this withdrawal will end the war for the U.S., it will not end the war for people in Afghanistan. In fact, it might make the conflict within the country worse, with some saying that the U.S., even as it withdraws, should support some kind of, for example, U.N. peacekeeping effort in the country, given that the war now is, of course, not just an internal war, but also a proxy war. Your response to that?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, Nermeen, I’m sympathetic to those concerns. Withdrawing militarily does not mean that we can stop engaging. We certainly need to be actively engaged in the diplomatic process, in the aid process. And we should be open to the idea of some United Nations presence, if that’s what it will take, and consider supporting such an effort. But we have an obligation, after 20 years there, to do all we can, through nondirect military means, to see that we support the Afghani people.

AMY GOODMAN: So, in 2009, Biden, then serving as President Obama’s vice president, handwrote a memo to Obama arguing for withdrawal from Afghanistan. So this is what? Twelve years ago. He faxed the letter to the White House from his Thanksgiving vacation on Nantucket. Obama instead chose to surge troops, before eventually pulling many of them out. Two years later, in 2011, he announced a plan to end the War in Afghanistan. This is 10 years ago.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding. Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way. We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country. And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance. These long wars will come to a responsible end.

AMY GOODMAN: So, again, that was President Obama 10 years ago. Of course, before that, you had Bush. Biden pointed out he doesn’t want to hand this on to a fifth president. Now the war has been through two Republican and two Democratic presidents. Also, while Trump had said that all troops would be out by May 1st, Biden says the troops will begin to be pulled out by May 1st. But as we see in The New York Times, we’re talking about thousands and thousands more mercenaries, intelligence people, contractors will remain in Afghanistan. Your thoughts on this, Congressman?

REP. RO KHANNA: Well, first, Amy, President Biden’s judgment on Afghanistan has been right, with the clip you said. I wish we had listened to him and didn’t have that surge back in 2010.

Second, I do believe that the president and his team need a few months to responsibly withdrawal. So the May 1st deadline that President Trump had set, I don’t think President Biden should have felt obligated to meet that. September 11 seems like a reasonable goal.

I do think, after we have that withdrawal, we need to look into this presence of contractors, what they’re doing and their role there and what more we may need to do. It’s the first time learning of it, based on The New York Times report, and that is something that we will investigate through the Armed Services Committee to make sure that we have withdrawn.

The final point I will say is, many of us supported Secretary Austin as the defense secretary. One of the reasons we supported him, despite the controversy, is we thought he would get in line with the president’s decision to withdraw and not push back. And I’m glad that Secretary Austin has shown that judgment and is committed now to withdrawal.

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