Mitch McConnell condemns Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal plan as 'dangerous wishful thinking'

Republican says 'there is every reason to believe Al Qaeda will regroup in its historic safe haven'

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday delivered his heaviest criticism yet of US President Joe Biden’s plan to withdraw from Afghanistan, calling it “dangerous wishful thinking".

Speaking from the Senate floor, Mr McConnell said the withdrawal decision was “not clear-eyed or strategic”.

He said there was a lack of “a coherent plan to mitigate the geopolitical and humanitarian risks” and “there is every reason to believe Al Qaeda will regroup in its historic safe haven”.

The US invaded Afghanistan in 2001 to overthrow the Taliban and elements of Al Qaeda after the terror attacks of September 11.

Now the Biden administration has set September 11 this year as the deadline to pull out all remaining US troops from the country.

Mr McConnell voiced concern over the US military's future ability to conduct counter-terrorism “reconnaissance and strike missions” without a presence in Afghanistan.

“If the Taliban takes Kabul, will the Biden administration recognise it as the legitimate government of Afghanistan?" he asked.

"Will we shutter our embassy and our aid programmes?

“The reality is, they don’t know. They can’t say. There is no plan."

Biden administration officials insisted last week that they were planning to ensure the US would be able to continue its battle against terrorism after withdrawing.

David Helvey, assistant secretary of defence for Indo-Pacific affairs, told Congress last Friday that the process was “ongoing”.

“We’re working to reposition our counter-terrorism capabilities, including by retaining assets in the region,” Mr Helvey said.

But while Mr McConnell’s view echoes some of the criticism by former generals and military officials, there appears to be no consensus within the Republican Party on the issue.

Republican senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Jim Inhofe and Rand Paul have welcomed the end to America’s longest war and bringing troops home.

The plan has also been met with praise from progressive members of Congress looking to keep the focus on domestic issues.

Twenty-three members of Congress, led by Democratic representative Mark Pocan, sent a letter to Mr Biden on Friday commending the withdrawal, saying it could save US taxpayers $50 billion.

They suggested spending the money on ending homelessness in the US.

US Central Command said last week that the withdrawal was on schedule and that the military had completed up to 20 per cent of the pullout.

Updated: May 26, 2021 04:56 AM

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