Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that President Joe Biden is doing the “right thing” by withdrawing all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, but stressed that it matters how the Biden administration executes the plans.
The Biden administration’s tactics, decisions, timing, and execution regarding the drawdown of combat troops in the region beginning May 1 will be key, said Pompeo.
Pompeo was a member of the team negotiating the nation’s exit strategy with the Taliban under Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump. Last year, Trump outlined an agreement with the Taliban, saying troops would withdraw from Afghanistan by May 1 in exchange for a promise from the Taliban for a reduction in violence, counterterrorism guarantees, and a pledge to kickstart intra-Afghan peace talks.
“We reduced [troops] from 10,000 plus to around 2,500 on our watch, and … [we did] everything we could to make sure we were never attacked from Afghanistan again,” Pompeo said during an appearance on Fox News’ “America Reports.”
Biden said Wednesday that it is now “time to end America’s longest war” and “time for American troops to come home,” noting that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York City “cannot explain” why U.S. soldiers should remain in the Central Asian country.
He said he made the decision after consulting with Vice President Kamala Harris, top military leaders, lawmakers, and former President George Bush.
The president hasn’t yet specified whether special operations troops will remain in Afghanistan. As of this year, as many as 1,000 special operations forces are reported to remain in the region.
Pompeo said that the United States moving to “reduce our footprint inside of Afghanistan” is “completely appropriate and the right thing to do.”
“President Biden has it right. President Trump had it right before him,” said Pompeo. “Its leader is mostly inside of Iran and not inside of Afghanistan.”
But he stressed that “how you execute this matters an awful lot.”
“We need make sure to have our European partners on board … and then the Taliban have an important decision to make. [They] have to decide if they want to be part of a pariah state and cause lots of trouble, or if they want to be part of a solution in Afghanistan.”
“It’s a long shot that they’ll choose that choice but it would be the right thing for them to do, and in the event that they choose otherwise, the United States still provides billions of dollars in assistance to Afghanistan, and we ought to make that assistance contingent on the decisions of all Afghan leaders getting it right,” Pompeo added.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other top Republicans said Biden’s plan to remove troops is a “grave mistake.”
During a press conference Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that Biden’s decision to fully withdraw U.S. troops by Sept. 11 is “the highest risk option available,” and will “put us in a world of hurt.”
“What do we lose by pulling out? We lose that insurance policy against another 9/11,” said Graham. “We lose listening post in the backyard of some of the most radical movements in the world. Afghanistan has been a platform where we can monitor what’s going on in Iran and other places.”
“What do we gain? We gain the idea that the war is now over, and Joe Biden ended the longest war in American history,” the South Carolina Republican continued. “With all due respect to President Biden, you have not ended the war, you have extended it.”
“You have made it bigger, not smaller. You’re going to do to us what you did in Iraq, put us in a world of hurt,” Graham said, referring to a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 under former President Barack Obama, a move which some critics say led to the rise of ISIS.
“The likelihood of this happening again is going through the roof after President Biden’s decision today,” Graham added. “He’s setting Afghanistan on a path to deteriorate rather quickly and for the enemy, radical Islam, to reconstitute. It can all be avoided with a minimal commitment compared to the past.”
Biden has said that the United States will continue to provide security assistance to Afghanistan’s army, adding that if the Taliban attacks, U.S. troops will defend themselves with “all the tools available.”