Rep. Ilhan Omar weighs in on Afghanistan and America’s role

A woman looks off over a podium.
U.S, Rep. Ilhan Omar introducing Sen. Bernie Sanders during a Minneapolis rally in Nov. 2019. Evan Frost
Evan Frost | MPR News 2019

Mass evacuation in Afghanistan continues after Taliban forces took control of the country earlier this week. The Pentagon says that U.S. military officers in Kabul are talking to Taliban commanders about making it easier for Afghans and Americans to enter the airport for evacuation flights.

Lawmakers across the country must grapple with the United States’ role in what is unfolding there after two decades of American intervention in Afghanistan. MPR News host Tom Crann spoke with U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a DFLer who represents Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District about the situation. In a statement Monday, Omar called it “personally painful,” referring to her history of fleeing violence in Somalia with her family.

“The tragedy did not begin in the last couple of weeks,” her statement said. “The hard truth about America’s longest war is that for 20 years, we made promises we couldn’t keep.”

What was your reaction to seeing hundreds of Afghans seemingly clinging to a U.S. military plane as it took off and chaos at the airport Monday?

It was horrific. Look, I know what it's like to be a child in a family scrambling for safety in a war-torn country. It is just really traumatic for us to witness what we are witnessing, and for me, to be in a position of power right now trying to influence the policy as we move forward. I'm someone who absolutely thinks it was the right thing for the President to end America's longest ever war. But the end of this war cannot and must not mean the end of our commitment to the Afghan people.

Should President Joe Biden’s administration have had better intelligence here to inform this withdrawal? Could they have planned better knowing this was coming?

I believe there will be plenty of time for us to confront the fundamental failures of the Afghan policy over the course of many decades and four presidencies. We haven't gotten a classified briefing yet. We haven't been able to critique them on the flawed intelligence they might have had, where the gaps were in intelligence, what made the 300,000 Afghan forces that we've trained over the years give up so easily. And so there's a lot of time.

But right now, the urgency of the moment and every single conversation we have with the administration needs to be about what they are doing to make sure they are bringing every vulnerable Afghan person who has been part of our mission, who's been made vulnerable because of our mission, into safety.

So what can and should Congress be doing now for funding and logistics to get refugees out of Afghanistan? And should the U.S. be taking all of those refugees?

The President just announced that they have authorized $500 million dollars. That is a start. We are having a conversation of putting more resources into the reconciliation budget bill that we will be drafting in the coming weeks, and I support that effort. We've also been in communication with a lot of the resettlement agencies who are eager to support. They have the capacity. The state departments need to coordinate with them to make sure that they are utilizing them to their full capacity.

We've also been in touch with House leadership and Senate leadership and the administration in trying to see what more we can do in regards to advocating for resources. Just yesterday we were having a conversation about this very thing with Chairwoman Barbara Lee [chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations] and others, trying to figure out what can be done now going forward.

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