Twenty years in Afghanistan offers lessons about sending men, women into combat
By TIM CARPENTER
TOPEKA — U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran said withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan after 20 years of fighting affirmed in his mind the United States should operate under declarations of war approved by Congress rather than resolutions authorizing the executive branch to wage limitless war.
Moran, who toured Washburn University on Thursday, said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack in which hijacked passenger jets were transformed into missiles hitting New York City and Washington, D.C., and crashing into a Pennsylvania field were defining moments. The immediate aftermath generated unity of purpose in this country and abroad, he said. It also led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“It’s a reminder that when we ask young men and women to go to war, we ought to have a plan for how we succeed in that effort,” Moran said. “We need to make a case to the American people before we utilize lives of men and women.”
More than 2,500 American service members were killed in Afghanistan, the nation’s longest war, and approximately 4,500 U.S. troops died in Iraq.
Moran, a Republican, said the practice of adopting congressional resolutions authorizing military force in other countries should give way to votes on declarations of war as the U.S. Constitution envisioned. All six Kansans in the congressional delegation, including Moran, voted in favor of the 2001 Afghanistan resolution and the 2003 Iraq resolution. The last time the United States formally declared war was in World War II.
Moran said he was in Afghanistan four years ago and discerned the country was on the path for a brighter future. He witnessed Afghans working to make their country a better place. In the end, the senator said, the wheels fell off the Afghan government and the Taliban took control. The last U.S. forces flew out of Kabul, Afghanistan, under an agreement negotiated by President Donald Trump and by the Aug. 31 deadline established by President Joe Biden.
“Ultimately, we’re dealing with a government that couldn’t govern. Corruption exists,” Moran said. “It’s just a reminder that we need to be very cautious about utilizing our military. Too often, no one sacrifices except those who are serving and their families.”
The United States and allies removed about 120,000 people from Afghanistan before the withdrawal. It’s unclear how many thousands of Afghan people who worked in concert with U.S. forces remain in that country and in peril under Taliban rule.
Moran said U.S. veteran suicide hotlines had experienced higher call volumes. Callers are Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in addition to people who served in Vietnam.
“Service men and women who served in Afghanistan are troubled by what they are hearing, reading and seeing,” Moran said. “They’re troubled by the fact they had an interpreter or someone else who worked side-by-side with them that’s still in Afghanistan.”
“The problems we face as a result of how we’re coming out of Afghanistan is certainly not the consequence of someone serving in Afghanistan in a uniform. It’s about people who wear suits in Washington, D.C.”
He was critical of the Biden administration’s handling of the airborne departure from Afghanistan. Biden should have prepared well in advance a more thoughtful plan for removal of U.S. citizens and Afghan allies. That operation should have featured a rapid visa approval process, he said.
“There was no process in place for a long time and certainly nothing recent that made any of that easy. Everything I know to date is we have failed,” Moran said.
He said the U.S. government and allies ought to concentrate on preventing Afghanistan’s transformation into a terrorist haven. He said Afghanistan would need humanitarian aid because “hunger and famine is around the corner.”
Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.