Mitch McConnell warned that America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan risked replaying the nation’s humiliating withdrawal from Saigon at the end of the Vietnamese conflict in 1975.
As thousands of US troops were ordered to return to Kabul to evacuate embassy staff amid a rapid advance by the Taliban, US Senate Minority Leader McConnell said the US “Were heading for a massive, predictable and preventable disaster.”
It came as officials confirmed on Friday that the Taliban had captured Afghanistan’s second-largest city, Kandahar, as well as Lashkar Gah in the south.
The Taliban also claimed to have captured the western city of Herat, the third largest in the country, and Qala-e-Naw in the northwest.
A photo that immortalized the US defeat in Vietnam, showing evacuees boarding a helicopter on the roof of a building, quickly spread on social media after the United States announced the emergency deployment on Thursday.
McConnell, the top Republican congressman, on Thursday criticized the Biden administration for its decision to announce the withdrawal of troops by September 11 – the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on New York and Washington that precipitated the US invasion of Afghanistan.
Although Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump signaled the pullout, McConnell gave a searing assessment of the White House plan.
“The latest news of a further withdrawal from our embassy and a hasty deployment of military forces appear to be preparations for the fall of Kabul,” McConnell said.
” President [Joe] Biden’s decisions send us rushing into an even worse sequel to Saigon’s humiliating fall in 1975.
“President Biden finds out that the fastest way to end a war is to lose it,” McConnell said, urging the president to commit to providing more support to Afghan forces instead.
“Otherwise, al-Qaida and the Taliban could celebrate the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks by burning down our embassy in Kabul. “
Former US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus added her weight to the chorus of critics, saying it was “a huge foreign policy failure with generational ramifications just seven months later. the start of this administration. Everything points to a complete collapse.
Biden said on Tuesday he did not regret his decision, noting that Washington had spent more than a trillion dollars in the United States’ longest war and lost thousands of troops. He added that the United States continued to provide significant air support, food, equipment and salaries to Afghan forces.
In June, as the Taliban’s advance gathered momentum, Biden addressed the Saigon parallels and dismissed them outright. “There will be no circumstance where you will see people being lifted off the roof of a United States embassy from Afghanistan,” he said.
The same month – since which the Taliban’s lightning offensive has surprised many U.S. military officials – U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley also dismissed comparisons to Saigon’s desperate exit.
“I don’t see this unfolding,” Milley said. “I might be wrong, who knows, you can’t predict the future, but I don’t see Saigon 1975 in Afghanistan. The Taliban are simply not the North Vietnamese army. It is not that kind of situation.
To proceed with the evacuation of American personnel from its embassy in Kabul, 3,000 American troops will secure the airport, 1,000 will be sent to Qatar for technical and logistical support, while 3,500 to 4,000 will be positioned in Kuwait for deploy when needed.
Senior US officials spoke to Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday and told him the United States “remains committed to the security and stability of Afghanistan” in the face of Taliban violence, the department said. of state.
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, and Lloyd Austin, the Secretary of Defense, told Ghani that Washington was reducing its civilian footprint in Kabul given “the evolving security situation” and would increase the pace of special immigration visa flights for Afghans that aided the US effort in the country.
The UK has announced it will send 600 troops and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace has said Britain is moving its embassy from the outskirts of the Secure Green Zone to a potentially safer location closer to the center from the capital.
US officials rushed to answer questions about the mission on Thursday, with Pentagon spokesman John Kirby declining to describe as a so-called “non-combatant evacuation operation,” or NOE. He said he did not have a name and avoided talking about evacuations.
The best-known “NOE” mission was Operation Frequent Wind, in which more than 7,000 Vietnamese civilians were evacuated from Saigon on April 29-30, 1975 by helicopter.
The image of American diplomats leaving under military protection from the top of an apartment building used by the CIA – and not the United States Embassy as is often believed – has come to represent the American failure in Indochina .
Asked about the image and the inevitable comparisons between the situation in Afghanistan and the fall of Saigon, Kirby tried to point out the differences.
“We are not completely eliminating our diplomatic presence on the ground,” he said.
“No one is abandoning Afghanistan, he is not straying from it. It is doing the right thing at the right time to protect our people.
The capture of Kandahar by the Taliban capped an eight-day blitz that left only the capital and pockets of other territories in government hands. The group has established a beachhead within 150 km of Kabul and its rapid advances leave the capital isolated from the rest of the country.