Maine’s two U.S. senators voiced serious concerns Monday about the Biden administration’s handling of U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and the rapid collapse of the country’s government in the face of Taliban advances.

“The chaos unfolding in Afghanistan is as awful as it was avoidable,” Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, said in a prepared statement Monday afternoon. “The Biden administration badly misjudged the immediate conditions on the ground. It did not plan adequately for the safe evacuation of American citizens.”

Collins specifically criticized Biden’s administration for abandoning the military’s Bagram Air Base, leaving only one marginally functioning airport in the country, at Kabul. That decision was compounding problems with rescuing Americans and others from the advancing Taliban. She said translators who helped the United States and its allies, and women who had become leaders were now at great risk.

Meanwhile, Sen. Angus King, an independent, was watching the situation on the ground closely, spokesman Matthew Felling said.

“Whether America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan was implemented by President Biden or President Trump, who set the original plan in motion, drawing down troops – while supported by over 70 percent of Americans – was going to be fraught and challenging given the pressures in the region,” Felling said. “Right now, the safety of American troops, personnel, and our allies on the ground must command all our energy and attention at this critical moment. ”

Collins said the U.S. now risks seeing Afghanistan again becoming a haven for terrorists like those who launched the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Collins has traveled to Bagram several times in recent years and she has raised repeated concerns about a troop withdrawal that would leave Afghan women and children vulnerable to the Taliban. In May, she authored a joint resolution with Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, condemning a Taliban attack on a girls school in Kabul that killed 80 and left 150 wounded. At the time, Shaheen said the attack was evidence the troop withdrawal was already costing Afghan lives.

King supported the troop withdrawal previously but had criticized former President Donald Trump for reaching an agreement with the Taliban, saying in April that it had “boxed” Biden in on a commitment to withdraw U.S. troops by May, which didn’t happen. King also voiced concerns at that time that the Taliban would regain control of the country.

Even so, ” …  the speed of the Taliban’s march to and into Kabul raises questions of overall strategy, the adequacy of our intelligence, the effectiveness of the Afghan security forces, and the failure of the Afghan government to build support throughout the country that warrant hard questions and clear answers,” Felling said.

SEEKING ANSWERS

“Sen. King will be seeking those answers for Maine and the American people from his positions on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committee in the weeks ahead to gain clarity on how our plans and expectations for the Afghanistan people after a trillion dollars, thousands of lives lost, and twenty years were so at odds with the reality we’ve seen play out over the last several weeks,” Felling said.

Rep. Jared Golden, D-2nd District, a Marine Corps veteran who served a combat tour in Afghanistan, said he supports the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and believes the U.S. mission there should have ended in 2011, soon after the U.S. killed Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden.

“Although we must always remain vigilant to protect our country from terrorist threats, we accomplished our core mission in Afghanistan in 2011 when we killed Bin Laden,” Golden said in a prepared statement. “As I have said publicly before, I supported the decision of first President Trump and now President Biden to bring our troops home from Afghanistan.”

But Golden also said the rapid collapse of the Afghan National Army in recent days and the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan would require a U.S. military presence in Kabul until all Americans and their allies can be safely evacuated.

“I believe that the president should leave our troops on the ground at Kabul International Airport for as long as is necessary to ensure we get all American citizens out safely and to evacuate as many of our Afghan allies as possible,” Golden said.

Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said she opposed the war well before she was elected to Congress in 2009, and Biden was right to bring it to a close. The war started in 2001, not long after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“President Biden was right to finally end this forever war,” Pingree said in a prepared statement. “Our service members and their families have made enormous sacrifices over the course of the last two decades; we must honor their dedication by ensuring another generation does not have to fight the same battle. Now we must do everything possible to get those who were loyal to our troops and aided us in Afghanistan to safety.”

She did not address the nature of the withdrawal and the chaotic situation on the ground.

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