The Afghanistan conflict is the United States' longest military engagement, but now is not the time to get out, said U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., after touring the Middle Eastern country.
Daines, over the weekend, made his second trip to Afghanistan where military leaders argued against leaving. He spoke with Montana press Tuesday morning.
“U.S. withdrawal, in my opinion, would have devastating consequences and would put Americans’ safety at risk,” Daines said. “We have direct evidence of ISIS inspired plots going on in Afghanistan that directly hit the homeland. And if it were not for U.S. forces there in Afghanistan the risk of such would be greater.”
The United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan in 2001 shortly after the terrorist group al-Qaida hijacked passenger jets and crashed them into the World Trade Center and Pentagon buildings, killing thousands.
The terrorist plot was hatched in Afghanistan by al-Qaida leader Osama Bin Laden who was harbored by the Taliban, Islamic hardliners who had taken control of the country. No longer in power, the Taliban continue to destabilize the nation.
Daines' comments came as the Senate Armed Services Committee heard from Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie who described that war as a stalemate, according to the Associated Press. McKenzie told the committee that the number of Afghan troops killed is unsustainable. More than 1,000 Afghan soldiers were killed in August and September this year. The Afghan government isn’t capable of defending its country and it isn’t known when the nation will have a force capable of defending itself.
McKenzie cautioned against U.S. withdrawal, according to the AP report. The Taliban has expanded its territorial control this year.
Meanwhile, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis called for a multinational effort to end the Afghan War, the Hill reported.
Secretary Mattis: "You know, we are looking for every responsible nation to support peace in the subcontinent and across this war. In Afghanistan it's gone on now, it's approaching 40 years. 40 years is enough." https://t.co/sY5DClbVEC pic.twitter.com/1U0xW1BQ2U— The Hill (@thehill) December 4, 2018
Mattis made his comments before meeting with Nirmala Sitharaman, the India defense secretary.
The Trump administration and the military frame the Afghanistan objective as a “political solution,” with the Afghan government and the Taliban negotiating a peace. It’s a plan that requires neighboring Pakistan to buy in, which President Trump recently asked the nation to do, this after cutting military aid to Pakistan. Trump had earlier tweeted that Pakistan lost U.S. military funding because it had done nothing to reign in the Taliban or al-Qaida.
Daines said securing a political solution will involve compelling participation from Taliban, which has refused overtures by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. Gen. Scott Miller, the head of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, emphasized that mission when meeting with Daines.
“The solution we seek in Afghanistan is to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table with President Gahni and the Afghan government. That will be the only long-term sustainable solution,” Daines said. “I think everybody would like to see this conflict wind down, but I don’t think this president, I can tell you, General Miller, is not going to be driven by timelines, but will be driven more by outcomes and objectives. And that will be bringing the Taliban to the negotiation table here, to get a peaceful political solution.”
The U.S. death toll related to the Afghanistan conflict since 2001 is 2,413 through Monday, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Civilians are included in the death count. More than 20,456 Americans have been wounded in action.
The 2001 U.S. mission in Afghanistan, Operation Enduring Freedom, ended in 2014, but gave way to Operation Freedom's Sentinel.
Most recently, three U.S. soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb Nov. 27.
Daines met with Montana soldiers serving in Afghanistan. He brought beef jerky and home-baked goods to members of the Montana National Guard’s 495th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion
The senator also stopped in Turkey to discuss that nation's potential purchase of Russian surface-to-air missiles. Daines said the sale wouldn't be in the United States' best interests.
Daines serves on the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.