Utah politicians blast Biden as Taliban seize Afghanistan; governor ready to welcome refugees

Elected leaders call the devastating end of the 20-year conflict “disastrous,” “tragic” and “infuriating.”

(Jim Huylebroek | The New York Times) Taliban fighters on a Humvee in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 15, 2021.

A Utah congressman called for U.S. military leaders to resign, a senator accused the president of abandoning Afghans without comfort or hope, and Gov. Spencer Cox offered up the state as a new homeland for refugees as Utah elected officials reacted to the dramatic collapse of Afghanistan.

Mere months after President Joe Biden began withdrawing U.S. military forces in the country, the Taliban have seized control of Afghanistan once again, despite a 20-year effort in which American patrols tried to keep the extreme Islamist group at bay.

The collapse was swift, if predictable, creating chaos at the Kabul airport as Afghans attempted to flee and leaving the nation’s women in a state of fear and uncertainty about their future.

Republicans in Utah and across the U.S. used the tragedy to rail against Biden, a Democrat, even though former President Donald Trump had also championed a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan. Trump had a negotiated a May 1 deadline to remove U.S. troops from the conflict and significantly reduced the American military presence in the country before Biden took office.

Members of Utah’s all-GOP congressional delegation were among the voices heaping criticism on Biden.

“President Biden recently said the Taliban would not take over Afghanistan,” Rep. Chris Stewart tweeted Monday, shortly before Biden was scheduled to address the nation about the foreign policy disaster. “Was he lying to the American people, or did he have no understanding of the situation?”

In July, Biden had said of U.S. troops’ withdrawal that “the likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely.”

Taliban fighters were able to take control of nine provincial capitals in a matter of days, culminating with Sunday’s fall of Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital.

Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, posted a longer public statement Monday, arguing the inability of Afghan forces to fend off the Taliban represented a failure in leadership from Biden and the Pentagon. He also asserted the U.S. allowed helicopters, weapons and classified documents to fall into the hands of the Taliban.

“Competent military leadership could have withdrawn our forces in an orderly fashion,” Stewart said. “...It pains me to see a mistake of this magnitude, but I could not in good [conscience] witness this level of failure without demanding accountability.”

The congressman called on Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley to resign.

In a four-part thread posted Sunday to Twitter, Rep. John Curtis called Biden’s move “disastrous,” adding that it would weaken U.S. credibility.

Freshman Rep. Blake Moore also shared a statement on Twitter over the weekend, worrying that the Taliban had eroded decades of progress in mere months.

“The President owed it to our homeland security and trapped Afghan families who aided the U.S. government to establish a responsible exit plan,” the congressman wrote, “not a desperate evacuation that has left our diplomats, loyal interpreters, and other allies in mortal danger.”

The Afghanistan war has cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion as of last spring, as well as the lives of nearly 6,300 American service members and contractors. More than 113,000 Afghan military members, police and civilians were killed in the war.

In his public address Monday afternoon, Biden stood by his decision to withdraw.

After that address, Sen. Mitt Romney issued a statement saying the president had failed to acknowledge “his disastrous withdrawal,” leaving no comfort for American or Afghan citizens.

“Contrary to his claims, our choice was not between a hasty and ill-prepared retreat or staying forever,” the Utah Republican said. “The decision to place a higher priority on a political promise than on the lives of innocent men, women, and children is a stain on America’s reputation and undermines our credibility around the world.”

Romney had tweeted about the “tragic human cost” of Afghanistan’s collapse over the past week, lamenting that the U.S. had left its allies without an effective defense strategy.

Monday afternoon, the Utah senator and 2012 Republican presidential nominee again demanded that the U.S. work to evacuate its Afghan partners.

“The President must fully commit to this,” Romney tweeted, “and make clear to the Taliban that impeding such will be met with full military force.”

As of Monday afternoon, Utah’s other senator, Mike Lee, had not made any public statements about Afghanistan.

First-term Rep. Burgess Owens wrote a brief tweet about Biden’s decision to stay at Camp David over the weekend.

“This is infuriating,” the congressman wrote Sunday. “@POTUS has brought absolute chaos to everything his administration touches. Meanwhile he vacations...”

Cox tweeted from his official account Monday that Utah “stands ready to welcome refugees from Afghanistan, especially those who valiantly helped our troops over the last 20 years.”

But on his personal account, the governor struck a more somber tone.

“I’m sickened and devastated at the scenes coming out of Afghanistan and at the terrible miscalculation by our government,” Cox wrote. “... God help us. Utah stands ready.”