Ahead of President Joe Biden’s remarks Tuesday acknowledging 100 to 200 American citizens were unable to get out of Afghanistan when the airlift ended Monday, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger said he’s been on the phone with pilots trying to line up alternative solutions for anyone looking to leave.
The Channahon Republican toured Sigan America, LLC Plant in Ottawa on Tuesday morning. He said that before his visit, however, he’d been working to help people — notably refugees — who want to get out of Afghanistan.
“On the way here, I’ve been working trying to get pilots in an airplane to fly into a country near Afghanistan to pull more people out, so that’s going to continue and I think we owe it to these folks, especially the ones we promised if they worked with us they would get a special immigrant visa,” Kinzinger said. “I’ve been working this issue for 11 years, since I’ve been in Congress.
“These are exactly the kind of people we want in the United States. People who try to go out there and create a lot of fear around it have no idea what they’re talking about.”
In his address at the White House on Tuesday, Biden defended his handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, including the final evacuation from Kabul airport, according to The Associated Press.
Biden said the U.S. government had reached out 19 times since March – before his public announcement that he was going to end the U.S. war – to encourage all American citizens in Afghanistan to leave.
The president said 5,500 Americans eventually got out, and that “arrangements” will be made to get the remaining Americans out if they so choose. Biden said his administration was ready when the U.S.-backed government in Kabul collapsed in mid-August and the Taliban took over.
Kinzinger has been critical of both Biden and President Donald Trump for their administrations handling of removing troops from Afghanistan.
In particular, Kinzinger was critical Monday on Twitter of the U.S.’s dependency on diplomacy with the Islamic fundamentalist group now controlling Afghanistan.
“For me it’s sad we’re in a position where we had to rely on the Taliban to defend the airport,” Kinzinger said. “This idea that they’re somehow going to be a willing partner in the future is naive.”
Kinzinger said although they are rival groups, he doesn’t see any difference between the Taliban and ISIS.
“Truthfully, we found out a former Al Qaeda bigwig is under Taliban protection,” Kinzinger said. “I don’t think it’s going to be long until the Taliban cut a deal with ISIS, like they did with Al Qaeda pre-9-11. ‘You can stay here, just lay off us.’ "
Kinzinger said his biggest concern is Afghanistan becoming a breeding ground for terrorism across the world. He said the U.S. was able to accomplish victories against ISIS in Iraq and Syria by having soldiers embedded in the Middle East.
“We’ll have to see what time says,” Kinzinger said. “I think at this moment we have lost a lot of insight into terrorist organizations, into terrorist growth. There’s a lot of talk about over-the-horizon counterterrorism capacity, but all that basically is, is bombing stuff you know exists. It’s not the same. I hope I’m wrong, but I worry it’s going to lead to a growth of these terror organizations and ultimately we’ll bear the wrath of that.”
As an Air Force veteran who flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Kinzinger said it’s been hard to put into words what the past month has meant for himself and other veterans he’s talked to, saying it’s mostly confusion at this point.
“It’s kind of a mixture of anger, disappointment, mixture of sadness,” Kinzinger said. “There’s a little bit of pride on some of the things we were able to achieve, but we’re not monolithic on whether we should stay or leave. In veterans groups there’s differences of opinion, but I think there’s certainly a prevalent sadness. From the micro-perspective, we achieved a lot, we gave a lot of people freedom and opportunity, but macro, there’s no doubt we lost the war, because we chose to.”
The congressman said that as refugees make their way into the United States, he wouldn’t be opposed to helping them any way he can. He said most of that will come through policy set by Congress. He said Catholic and Lutheran services in Rockford has worked with relocation efforts in the past.
“Any way I can be helpful, the district can be helpful, I’m all in,” Kinzinger said. “There’s a process that goes through Congress.”