Rounds on Senate Floor: President Biden owns the Afghanistan debacle and history will not judge him kindly
WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) delivered remarks on the floor of the Senate today regarding the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.
In his remarks, Rounds highlighted a South Dakota veteran from Belle Fourche, who reached out to Rounds’ staff in hopes of evacuating her Afghan interpreter. Rounds also spoke in detail about President Biden’s decision to reject the professional advice of his military advisors to complete a conditions-based withdrawal rather than a date certain withdrawal. Read or watch Rounds’ full remarks below.
Tomorrow marks the 20th anniversary of the day the United States entered Afghanistan – the beginning of “Operation Enduring Freedom.”
On October 7, 2001, the U.S. military conducted its first strike on the terrorists responsible for attacking our nation on 9-11.
As President Bush said on that day: It was not a mission we asked for, but a mission that we would fulfill.
For the past two decades, brave men and women have answered the call and put on the uniform of our country to fight terrorists in the name of freedom.
We were a beacon of hope in a region of chaos.
Our presence made a difference.
As I travel my home state of South Dakota, I’ve heard from many people who were disturbed by the events that unfolded during our final days in Afghanistan.
I share their frustrations.
Together, we watched the Taliban forcefully regain control of an entire country that we worked so hard to keep free from terrorist groups.
We watched the credibility of the United States on the world stage diminish as we carelessly left our friends and allies behind.
We watched civilians hopelessly cling to the wings of aircraft in desperate hope of escape.
And we watched 13 brave men and women in uniform lose their lives while helping others seek freedom.
As we mourn the loss of their lives, we recognize and appreciate their service to our nation.
We also remember all those who fought by our side for twenty years, many of whom remain trapped in Afghanistan.
Brandy Roseland, a veteran from Belle Fourche, South Dakota, worked as a contractor in Afghanistan.
That’s where she met her interpreter.
According to Brandy, her interpreter served with the highest distinction and faced great personal risk, often putting himself in harm’s way to aid and protect Americans and his fellow Afghans.
On one such occasion, Brandy’s interpreter discovered an American contractor who died in an accident outside of Kabul.
The interpreter singlehandedly returned the contractor’s body, as well as sensitive equipment and documents to the US Embassy.
That took courage.
Brandy returned to the United States, but she stayed in contact with her interpreter.
When Afghanistan began to fall to the Taliban, she knew she needed to do all she could to help get him to safety.
That’s when Brandy called us and asked if we could help him escape the clutches of the Taliban.
For weeks, our office worked relentlessly to maneuver his application for a Special Immigrant Visa through the bureaucratic process at the State Department.
Our work was ultimately successful from an administrative standpoint, but the overall mission was a failure.
While we had done all we could to help the interpreter receive his visa, our forces had exited before he could get on a plane to safety.
Today, he remains in hiding in Afghanistan.
If he is found by the Taliban, his fate will certainly be sealed.
We all know that there were no easy decisions regarding Afghanistan.
But there was clearly a wrong one.
For months, we had warned of the perils of making an arbitrary decision based on the calendar as opposed to an assessment of the conditions on the ground.
And we weren’t alone.
As the only Republican member of both the Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees, I’ve had the opportunity these past few weeks to hear from the senior military officers who advised President Biden – General Milley, Secretary Austin and General McKenzie.
Their message to the president was clear: A withdrawal on a date-certain without conditions would lead to the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban.
Despite receiving the best military advice in the world, President Biden decided to use his own judgement and made the wrong decision.
His directive to withdraw on a date certain - without regard for the conditions on the ground – needlessly put American soldiers in harm’s way and forced our military to undertake an assignment destined for failure.
Our military simply ran out of time.
They could not get all of our Americans out.
And they could not get all of our Afghan allies out, including Brandy’s interpreter.
But it didn’t have to end this way.
Our military leaders offered President Biden the correct path forward.
Their commander-in-chief failed them.
Lately, the president has blamed a lot of people for his failure.
This includes the Afghan security forces and his own generals who he falsely claimed advised him to make this decision.
But this does not fall on any of them.
President Biden owns this debacle and history will not judge him kindly.
Because of his error, al Qaeda now has a breeding ground.
America is less safe.
The world is less safe.
I’ll close with a message for our veterans:
While I was governor, I attended 31 funerals of South Dakotans who died fighting in the war on terror.
We will not forget their sacrifice and their family’s loss.
While freedom may not endure in Afghanistan today, for twenty years you protected our nation and kept the fight away from our doorstep.
Your service was not in vain. Your sacrifice made a difference.
You represent the best of our country and your nation is grateful.
Always remember, it’s not the politician who protects our right to vote.
It’s not the journalist who protects our freedom of speech.
It’s not the preacher who protects our freedom of religion.
All of our freedoms are defended and protected by the men and women who wear, and have worn, the uniform of our great nation.
God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.