Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) spoke at a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing on Afghanistan, telling Secretary of State Antony Blinken that the Biden Administration’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan is evidence that “we've got the wrong people making military and diplomacy decisions in our government.” Video of Rubio’s remarks can be found here and a lightly edited transcript of his remarks is below.
“For much of last year I was the Acting Chairman of Intelligence, I’m now the Vice Chairman of Intelligence and tracking this very, very closely. Just going back to the beginning of this year, obviously I can't quote the titles of the pieces but suffice it to say, there are numerous pieces that would be categorized as, ‘it’s gonna hit the fan.’ But, let's just for a moment put that aside. I think any analysis of those pieces would have led anyone to that conclusion. Putting that aside for a moment, we had every reason to believe, and to plan for the rapid collapse of the Afghan military and the Afghan government.
“At the beginning of 2020, by all admissions, we had a very bad status quo in Afghanistan. We had a small footprint, but we had a strong commitment to air support and that sustained the Afghan security forces' ability to resist the Taliban. The security forces of Afghanistan were suffering 10,000 casualties a year. The Taliban was suffering casualties too, but they enjoyed safe haven in Pakistan. They were able to rest, retrain and recruit. And so, in summary, even before the withdrawal we had a terrible status quo.
“Security forces, small number of U.S. Forces continued to die. We had U.S. Losses as well, I want to mention that. The Afghan government was still fractious and corrupt, and the Taliban had unchallenged safe haven in Pakistan. Put another way, and paraphrasing your own words from your opening statement, if after 20 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in support, equipment and training, there’s not enough for the Afghan government or the Afghan security forces to become more resilient or self-sustaining, what did we think was going to happen as that support began to be removed? What did we think was going to happen when that terrible status quo was changed? It doesn't take some exquisite piece of intelligence, or some brilliant analysis, to conclude that if you radically change an already bad status quo by removing U.S. and NATO forces, by ending air support the status quo was going to collapse in favor of the Taliban.
“This is not an argument in favor of staying, I think that ship has sailed. I know a lot of time has been spent on justifying the withdrawal. We're not debating the withdrawal. What I’m arguing is, we had a terrible status quo as is-by your own admission. The Afghan government, even after billions of dollars in 20 years, was not self-sustaining, was not resilient. We should have known that as we began to draw down support, we were going to see the potential of a collapse. And that’s what all these pieces pointed to as well.
“It is concerning that no one saw all of this and concluded that there was no evidence, or reason to believe that there could be a rapid collapse. More to that point, we began to see clear signs--weeks ago--that this is where it was headed. Without air strikes the Taliban now began to maneuver going from intimidating these small Afghan outposts to actually getting them into quitting. We saw Afghan outposts begin to quit. The Taliban went from surrounding the small provincial capitals to surrounding major cities with 5,000 to 8,000 Taliban fighters. By the way, this was at the same time I believe on July 8th that President Biden was still giving this naive optimistic prediction about the fighting capabilities of the Afghan forces and so forth.
“We could see them meticulously focused on the north, you could see that they were methodically and carefully splintering the sclerotic remains of any sort of resistance. Weeks before the fall of Kabul you could see the Taliban was headed towards doing something they hadn't done before: they were going to isolate Kabul from the north, cutting off all the supply routes. So we knew weeks before we were headed for Taliban control of the north, all the traditional routes of Taliban encroachment on Kabul nearly sealed. Kabul faced the prospect of no fuel. The Afghan government faced the prospect of being unable to mount any viable opposition and sustained defense. What did we think was going to happen? All of those things were in place at the time. I think the most concerning part of it is if we didn't have analysis that looked at all of this -- This wasn’t a failure of intelligence, it was a failure of policy and planning.
“We have the wrong people analyzing this. Someone didn't see this. Either someone didn't see it or didn't want to see it. We wanted to be out by September 11th so we could have some ceremony arguing we pulled out of Afghanistan on the anniversary of 9/11.
“The fact of the matter is where it leads us now, on top of the other things from a geopolitical perspective, is not a good place. China, Russia, Iran look at this botched withdrawal and they see incompetence that they could exploit, which may lead to miscalculation. The Europeans, our allies, who had very say or control over the timing and execution of all this, they are now have to be wondering about our reliability, the credibility of our defense agreements with them, but also have to be really upset at the prospects of a massive refugee crisis landing right on their borders here very soon.
“In India -- I know there was an announcement that there will be a meeting of the Quad fairly soon, which a good development -- if you're India you look at this and saying if the United States allowed Pakistan to unravel their standing because the Pakistani role in all this -- and multiple administrations are guilty of ignore it -- The Pakistani role in enabling the Taliban is ultimately a victory for those pro-Taliban hardliners in the Pakistani government. India has to be looking at this and say, ‘If the United States could have a third-rate power like Pakistan unravel its aims, what chance do they have of confronting China?’
“So I think this leads us in a terrible situation. I go back to the initial point. I don't know how it is possible, if in fact the people in charge of our foreign policy did not see all these factors and conclude there was a very real possibility of a very rapid collapse then we have the wrong people making military and diplomacy decisions in our government.”