Listen: Congressman Don Bacon on the Botched Afghanistan Evacuation, Suicide Bombings in Kabul

Aug. 26, 2021, 4 p.m. ·

Congressman Don Bacon head shot wearing a dark blue suit and bright blue tie with American flag behind him.
Don Bacon (Courtesy photo)

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As the Aug. 31 deadline for a withdrawal of U.S. troops approaches, the situation in Afghanistan seems to be becoming more desperate every day. William Padmore of Nebraska Public Media News spoke with U.S. Rep Don Bacon in the moments after suicide bombers targeted Kabul Airport on Thursday.

William Padmore, Nebraska Public Media News: So, the first thing I want to ask you is, what are your thoughts on the situation in Afghanistan right now considering the position that we're in?

Congressman Don Bacon: I think it's been a disaster for our country because it was avoidable. So, I can look at this from like five or six different perspectives, but the worst thing right now is we have approximately six to ten thousand Americans in Afghanistan, and we're told by the State Department about 1500 still want to come out. That's what I understand. And so we run the real risk of a hostage situation because the U.S. forces are going to be out by the 31st (of August) and it really means they're gonna stop (evacuating) civilians and other Afghan interpreters by like the 28th, 29th, because those last two days, we'll be getting our troops out. And so the biggest thing right now is we run the risk of a hostage situation. Secondly, this is a strategic defeat for America. Taliban is allied with Al Qaeda; they're hooked up with 40 different terrorist organizations. We're going to have a very difficult time holding the terrorists at bay in Afghanistan. We don't have air assets nearby; the nearest ones are Qatar. So this is a, it's gonna be a terrorist problem for our country down the road. Thirdly, our credibility in the world has been undermined because we backed out without a plan, we retreated hastily, we didn't have a really good contingency plan. And I think when you look at what NATO was saying about us, Great Britain, the guy that's gonna replace President Merkel from Germany, we've been criticized significantly for how we handled us. And here's another area; our adversaries, Iran, China and Russia are gonna feel emboldened. They see weakness, they see ineptitude there. Here's another final issue, we left over a billion dollars in weapons behind for the Afghan government. Now the Taliban have it. That's another issue in its own right. So, I see a disaster of epic proportions that was avoidable and we're gonna pay for it for over a decade.

Padmore: What are America's options now that our last stronghold in Afghanistan, the Kabul airport, is now being openly targeted by terrorists, as we're just getting news now that apparently there was an explosion outside of the Kabul airport that killed civilians?

Bacon: There were two suicide bombings- I just got the report. Looks like three American servicemen are gravely injured is what we're hearing right at this point. Many more Afghans were injured. We don't have many good options at this point. The President's execution of this withdrawal really tied our hands at this point, we should have done it totally different. We should have withdrawn the citizens before we move through our troops. And then we withdrew the troops, no need to bring 6000 troops back in when we saw this disaster hit us. I learned this week, I was in Washington, DC that DoD and the intelligence community advise the president not to do this retreat, the full retreat or full withdrawal of US forces. He did it anyway. The National Security Council recommended to him to do the rapid withdrawal. When you pull out and you have the sudden collapse (of the Afghan government and military) there's not much more we can do. We should have held on to Bagram airbase - there's a lot of ways we could have done this better. I'll say it that way. Now that we're only at the airport our hands are very much constrained. It is my view that we need to stay as long as it takes to get the Americans out that want to get out. That's got to be the number one priority. Those who want out because otherwise we're gonna be hostages. But right now we're in a situation where we're very vulnerable to not only al Qaeda and ISIS-K -eventually the Taliban can lob rockets and mortars into the airfield in and this could go downhill pretty quickly. There's not a lot we could do. Like I've told other people, Humpty Dumpty has been broken to pieces, and we're not going to build put it back together.

Padmore: Does nation building work? There's been a lot of talk, and you mentioned it before about the ambition of nation building. And I think the question is, rightly now in debate as to whether the project is even worth considering.

Bacon: Well, the stretch we had in Afghanistan for nation building did not work, but we weren't doing that the last several years. That's what a lot of our constituents do not know. They assume we were still doing nation building. We were not. We were in a support role to the Afghan forces, and they were doing the fighting, other than our air power, our air power was there, but we'd stopped doing the nation building thing years ago. My view was that nation building was not going to be successful in Afghanistan. You know, there's a different culture and I'm not saying it's better or worse, that's not where I'm going with this, but there's just a different culture and you can't make Afghanistan like America. You can't make Iraq like America. It's just got to be what the Afghans- got to make their own country and sort of the Iraqis, but we can help out with security. We can help out with training and Things like that. I think what we did is over time we evolved our strategy from nation building to what we had the last two years. What we were doing last two years is working.

Padmore: Does America ever, under any circumstances recognize the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan?

Bacon: I don't believe so. They're a government that murders, they rape, they persecute people that aren't Sunni Muslim. I don't see it in the near or midterm, any opportunity nor should we want to. These folks are murderers and they're thugs.

Editor's note: This conversation was edited for length.