As U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan nears end, Minnesotans weigh in on events in Kabul

People attending the Minnesota State Fair
Marine Corps veteran Dale Watson, 72, of Minneapolis, says it’s difficult for him to make an assessment of what's happened in Afghanistan — other than that it appears there were intelligence failures.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

The pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is now into its final hours, after people all across Minnesota and the country have watched it unfold over the past two weeks.

And among Minnesotans at the State Fair over the weekend, many of those willing to talk about the developments in Kabul expressed dismay over the situation.

“I'm bitter. I'm terribly bitter," said 60-year-old Tom McKellar, who lives in Pine City. He said he thinks the U.S. botched the process of pulling out its troops and other Americans in the country.

“If we'd have took them out a little at a time, when we were training our people — took them out a little bit at a time, and got (Afghan forces) so they could fight — the Taliban wouldn't have took over that city in four days. Four days!" he said.

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People attending the Minnesota State Fair
Kim and Tom McKellar of Pine City.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

McKellar was at the fair with his wife, Kim.

“We do need to be done in Afghanistan," she said, "but it should have been done properly."

Sitting on a bench across the street from the McKellars, 59-year-old Doyle Belisle of New Hope criticized military leaders.

“It's like putting a bunch of Boy Scouts to run the military. They don't know what they're doing," he said. "I come from a big military family and my dad's 92 years old, and he just shakes his head, he just says he's never seen anything like it all his years."

People attending the Minnesota State Fair
Doyle Belisle, 59, of New Hope.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Seventy-two-year-old Marine Corps veteran Dale Watson, who lives in Minneapolis and has war experience dating back to Vietnam, said that without knowing the details, it’s difficult for him to make an assessment of what's happened in Afghanistan — other than that it appears there were intelligence failures.

“War is ugly. Getting out's going to be dirty. Well, I can understand that," he said. "I'm just angry at the United States in general (and) that we should have never gotten ourselves in that situation again. ... The politicians all get together and they make decisions that take us in the wrong direction. We just shouldn't be there."

People attending the Minnesota State Fair
Army Reserve veteran Danny Saukkola, 51.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Fellow veteran Danny Saukkola, 51, who served in the Army Reserve, did not withhold judgment.

“I think it's disgraceful," he said of recent events, including last week's suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members.

Saukkola says he thinks the U.S. will have to return to Afghanistan.

“I'm afraid it's inevitable now, the way everything has gone," he said. "I don't think there's any way around it, the way that it's been done. It hasn't been orderly, it hasn't been efficient at all. And now we've been attacked."

Romaro Young, 26, of Brooklyn Park does not have military experience, but he also is not convinced the U.S. will soon be done with Afghanistan.

“If there's more terrorists coming, we might have to ... fight for it back" from the Taliban, he said.

People attending the Minnesota State Fair
Romaro Young, 26, of Brooklyn Park.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

Kim McKellar predicted Democrats will pay a price for how the withdrawal has gone.

“They're gonna be held accountable," she said. "And midterms — I mean, this was just like, you can't get any worse than this."

But University of Minnesota political science professor Larry Jacobs has a different take.

“At the moment there’s a free-for-all in clobbering Joe Biden for mishandling the withdrawal, but once we’re past this phase and it kind of leaves the front page, I don’t think we’re going to see Afghanistan as a driver in a year, almost a year-and-a-half," Jacobs said.

He said that with President Biden’s approval ratings plunging, Democrats may now be in a weaker position heading into next year's midterm election.

But Jacobs said the leader of the Republican Party, former President Donald Trump, is on track to shape the midterms into a rerun of the 2020 election Trump lost — rather than a referendum on this new Democratic president.

“The more time Donald Trump spends in front of microphones slamming Joe Biden, the more likely it is that it's going to be easier to mobilize Democrats in the upcoming ‘22 election as a referendum on Donald Trump. That would be a terrific outcome for Democrats. They want to run against Donald Trump again, because he not only energizes Democrats, but he also turns off key demographics such as women and suburban voters."

But for now the 2022 election seems a long way off as American troops still in Afghanistan, including an unspecified number from Minnesota, evacuate ahead of Tuesday's deadline.