U.S. Rep. Tom Cole

U.S. Congressman Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, ponders a point Tuesday while addressing the editorial board of The Lawton Constitution.

U.S. Fourth District Congressman Tom Cole said Tuesday the U.S. made a mistake in withdrawing all military personnel from Afghanistan.

U.S. troops completed their withdrawal Monday, a day ahead of the Aug. 31 deadline set by President Joe Biden to leave the country where U.S. military personnel had been present for 20 years. The action has drawn mixed responses, not necessarily for the fact it was done, but for the way it was accomplished amidst chaotic conditions in the closing weeks of American presence that left behind some Americans and Afghani citizens who fear their support of the U.S. mission now endangers their lives.

“I hope he’s right. I think he’s wrong,” Cole said Tuesday in a meeting with The Lawton Constitution, of Biden’s directive to withdraw all U.S. military from the country, adding he would have supported a conditional withdrawal that left some troops in place.

Cole said he believes the decision to go into Afghanistan 20 years ago was the right one, adding the country achieved its goals of getting Osama bin Laden while stabilizing an area that had become a haven for terrorists. He said at least three U.S. presidents tried to “get us out,” including former President Donald Trump and President Biden. But, a country that had been “more or less stable” is no longer, he said, adding Afghanistan now is less secure.

“Nobody thinks this was handled very well,” Cole said, explaining while there is ample support for withdrawing troops, questions remain about how it was done, such as why the U.S. waited until recent weeks to begin withdrawing Americans when leaders decided in March to leave.

Other questions: why leave people behind, and why leave assets behind? And, why withdraw to an airport that was an indefensible position, Cole said, adding the evacuation “was botched.”

Not only are there still an estimated 200 Americans remaining, there are thousands of Afghani citizens — the United Nations estimates up to 500,000 — who want to leave. Cole said not all of those citizens want to come to the United States, any more than the thousands of citizens who fled Syria wanted to come here.

“I think you will see a large exodus of people,” he said of a country that made significant gains during the 20 years of U.S. presence.

For example, Cole said the average life span of an Afghani was 56 in 2001. Today, it is age 64, while the country’s literacy rate has increased to 43 percent in that same time (it was 8 percent in 2001). And, half of the country’s population is under age 25, and those people haven’t known a country without U.S. influence.

Cole said many people believe the U.S. should have kept some type of presence in Afghanistan.

“I do,” he said, adding this country was the “steel in the spine” of a government set into place to hold ground against the Taliban and other terrorist organizations.

Cole said the Biden Administration also proceeded under a plan put into place by the Trump Administration, requiring a withdrawal of American troops on the condition that Americans not be attacked nor provisional capitals attacked.

“All those advantages were still in place,” he said.

Cole said among his concerns is the fact there is no indication fighting will stop. And, he fears the reaction of the rest of the world and others who may want to test U.S. resolve in the aftermath of what happened in Afghanistan. But, he doesn’t think the U.S. will go back into Afghanistan as a presence, although he predicts the nation may end up “striking back” in military missions.

This week’s actions means the Taliban is running Afghanistan again, “and that is bad news for the U.S. and for Afghani citizens,” he said.

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