SALT LAKE CITY — Republican Sen. Mitt Romney opposes President Joe Biden's plan to pull American troops from Afghanistan, putting him at odds with other GOP members of Utah's congressional delegation.
After a "frank and candid" White House briefing Tuesday, Romney said the president's decision to withdraw all troops by September is an error that could have serious consequences for U.S. national security interests.
"The U.S. and our allies maintain a small number of troops with an outsized ability to prevent the Taliban from providing terrorist groups like al-Qaida and ISIS the ability to train and flourish," Romney said in a statement. "Our military presence also helps to buttress the democratic government and its military, foster human rights for women and girls, and hold the Taliban accountable to their promises."
Biden announced the U.S. withdrawal from the "forever war" in Afghanistan last week, saying that the Sept. 11 terror attacks of 20 years ago cannot justify American forces still dying in the nation's longest war. He plans to pull the remaining 2,500 U.S. troops by Sept. 11, the anniversary of the attacks, which were coordinated from Afghanistan.
Romney said he wants the troops to come home but said he recognizes and "profoundly" appreciates the vital role they often play in dangerous places like Afghanistan to protect national security.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, supports Biden's plan as he did former President Donald Trump's plan last year to withdraw from Afghanistan.
Following today's frank and candid briefing with Administration officials on Afghanistan, I am convinced that a withdrawal of U.S. troops is an error that will have serious consequences for our national security interests. https://t.co/kXtB8feBbT— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) April 21, 2021
"It is well past time that we bring our troops home," he said. "Every year, security in the region gets worse and not better."
Stewart, a member of the House Intelligence Committee and a former Air Force pilot, said though there was initial success in establishing a democratic government in Afghanistan, it crumbles whenever there is a troop drawdown, leaving it "extraordinarily fragile."
"But at some point, you have to say to the Afghan people we've done all we can for you. It's really up to you now. It's really up to the Afghan leadership. The presence we have there isn't even stable. It's deteriorating. Every year, the Taliban has more and more control. Every year the government is less effective," he said on KSL-TV's "Sunday Edition" this past week.
Stewart said the U.S. would be better served to reallocate resources and focus on more immediate challenges around the world, though a small number of troops should be maintained in Afghanistan to protect the U.S. embassy and intelligence gathering.
Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee has long called for ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan.
"Let's get out. Nineteen years is too long. Let's end it," he said at a Senate committee hearing last year.
Lee has raised long-standing questions about the war in Afghanistan and said the Pentagon did not give him satisfactory answers. He has called it a gross abuse of power and military force that wastes trillions of dollars and thousands of lives.
The Washington Post reported last year that documents it dubbed the "Afghanistan Papers" revealed military and civilian leaders from the last three presidential administrations engaged in a massive conspiracy to mislead people about the success or progress in Afghanistan.
Congress and the public were knowingly lied to and deceived, Lee said.
A total of 2,312 U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan have died since 2001. Of that number, 2,218 service members died during the original combat mission, known as Operation Enduring Freedom. Another 94 service members died since the creation of the training mission, known as Operation Freedom's Sentinel, at the end of 2014, the Associated Press reported.
There are 20,066 American service members who have been wounded in action in Afghanistan since 2001.
There have been no American combat deaths in Afghanistan since two soldiers were killed and six wounded on Feb. 8, 2020, in a so-called insider attack in eastern Afghanistan's Nangarhar province when an Afghan dressed in an Afghan army uniform opened fire.