Former President George W. Bush said the United States must “cut the red tape for refugees” in Afghanistan who are trying to flee in the wake of the chaos caused by the Taliban’s rapid takeover of the country.
“The Afghans now at greatest risk are the same ones who have been on the forefront of progress inside their nation,” Bush said Monday in a statement, adding that “we have the responsibility and the resources to secure safe passage for them now, without bureaucratic delay.”
Bush, during his first year as president, launched the war in Afghanistan in the month after the 9/11 attacks to topple the Taliban-run government and target Al Qaeda. But the United States’ combat mission there became America’s longest war, provoking criticism and debate over the protracted fighting in the region that has led to military and civilian lives’ lost.
Current and former U.S. officials have also criticized Bush’s decision to shift the “war on terror” to Iraq in 2003, seeming to leave America’s focus on Afghanistan astray.
President Joe Biden said he had informed Bush about his plans to fully withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan before his public announcement in April.
Bush said in an interview last month with the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle that he was against Biden’s decision and that troop withdrawal from Afghanistan would be particularly devastating for Afghan women, children and other innocent people.
Biden signaled that the U.S. military mission would end on Aug. 31. But as the drawdown of troops and personnel unfolded this past week, the Taliban, which holds ultraconservative Islamic views, began seizing cities across Afghanistan at a frenzied pace and entered Kabul, the capital, on Sunday.
Biden, speaking to the American public from the White House on Monday, said, “I stand squarely behind my decision,” arguing that he was faced with a choice to either follow through with a drawdown that was mapped out by his predecessors or escalate the conflict into its third decade and ultimately put more American lives at risk.
Amid images of desperate Afghans flocking to airports to escape the country, Biden has faced mounting criticism from Republicans and some Democrats who say Biden failed to anticipate the political collapse and ensure that the thousands of Afghans who assisted U.S. forces over the 20-year war effort could exit the country before the Taliban reasserted power.
Bush on Monday said he and wife, Laura, were “watching the tragic events unfolding in Afghanistan with deep sadness,” but remained “confident that the evacuation efforts will be effective” because of the military, diplomatic corps and intelligence community working on the ground.