SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — With all United States forces now evacuated from Afghanistan, the war that began 20 years ago has come to an end. Over the past two weeks, we have spoken with Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds about their thoughts on the withdrawal; now we’re hearing from Rep. Dusty Johnson with his take on the matter.
“Afghanistan has been an absolute tragedy,” Johnson said before an event where he honored veterans of the war in Vietnam with challenge coins and lapel pins. “It’s been a disaster. It has been hard to watch.”
“What all reasonable people should agree is that the way we left — the execution of the decisions — was terrible,” he said. “This was not a good handling. The president mishandled this.”
Johnson says he believes reasonable people can have disagreements on what should have been done in Afghanistan. When asked if he agrees with Thune and Rounds that the U.S. should have maintained a long-term presence in Afghanistan with a small number of troops, Johnson chose to straddle the fence.
“Well I certainly understand the arguments on both sides and frankly I’m not going to criticize anybody, whether they think we should have stayed in Afghanistan or whether they are glad we have left,” he said. “It’s a really unpredictable part of the world. We’ve been there for 20-years. I think we did a lot of good, but for people who think 20-years was long enough, it’s hard to argue with that.”
When the U.S. began its withdrawal, Taliban forces swept the country, taking city after city at an alarming rate. When asked why the Afghan forces fell so swiftly, Sen. Rounds indicated that it was because the Afghans had only been trained to fight “with Americans providing a lot of the technical expertise.” Asked why, after 20 years, the Afghan forces were so reliant on U.S. forces, Johnson had this to say:
I do think the Department of Defense worked hard to build capacity within the Afghan National Security Force. Let’s be clear though; you cannot buy, with trillions of dollars nor with 20 years, the will to fight. You know, that idea that if we just would have a little bit better training in place that everything would have been alright, I think really fails to acknowledge the fact that I don’t think the Afghans wanted badly enough their own country without the Taliban in charge. They lacked the will to fight and it was heartbreaking to see that, but it was clear as day.Rep. Dusty Johnson
On whether there was ever a clear path to victory in Afghanistan, Johnson emphasized the complexity of the conflict while holding up what he says are the positive results of U.S. involvement.
“I think Americans knew going in that this was a substantial challenge — success was not guaranteed,” he said. “The reality is we did a lot of good in Afghanistan. We killed a powerful lot of bad guys who wanted to hurt this country. We made the world safer for a generation; that is no small thing.”
Johnson also extolled what he believes are the benefits U.S. occupation brought Afghan citizens.
“We now have millions of young people in Afghanistan who understand what freedom is like. We have millions of young women who were able to benefit from schooling in a way they never could have under the Taliban,” he said. “I think we will find that, long-term, Afghanistan — their future will be stronger because of those efforts even if it didn’t end exactly how all of us wanted.”
That future is now a very uncertain one. With the Taliban in control of the country and looking like the de-facto governing force, the prospect of a potential future U.S.-Taliban relationship must be considered.
“We shouldn’t trust the Taliban at all,” he said, echoing the words of President Biden on July 8. “They need to prove to us that they can be as good as their word.”
So far, Johnson says he has not seen enough evidence of that.
In the immediate future, Johnson said the priority needs to be focused on evacuating Afghan allies of the U.S. who are still trapped in country. Beyond that, “we need to disable to the greatest extent we can the equipment that was abandoned by the Afghan National Security Forces.” Johnson said the U.S. needs to go so far as to blow up the remaining equipment.
“It is incomprehensible that as much stuff was left behind in control of the Taliban as it was. Let’s get that taken care of,” Johnson said.