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Politics

Congressman Who Formerly Served In Afghanistan Reacts To Kabul Attacks

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's bring Illinois Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger into the conversation. He's also a member of the Air National Guard and an Air Force veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressman, good to speak with you again.

ADAM KINZINGER: Thank you. It's good to be with you.

KELLY: I want to let you react to a couple of things that President Biden said when he spoke today at the White House. The first one is that he stands by his decision to leave. And I know that's a decision you have supported. In light of everything that has happened since he made that decision, in light of events today, do you still think this is the right thing to do?

KINZINGER: Well, look. I've actually been pretty vocal that we shouldn't have left. I think, you know, what we're seeing is that, you know, people that have gone out and used terms like endless war actually, I think, have a misunderstanding that it takes two to end a war and it only takes one to start it. And I thought that the relative investment in Afghanistan for the relative stability was worth it. But, you know, the president made the decision, and obviously now we're fully committed. But you can see how sometimes taking what seems to be the easy decision can lead to a lot of worse choices, and that's the moment we're in.

KELLY: Thank you for correcting me there.

KINZINGER: Sure.

KELLY: The president also said tonight that the U.S. will hunt down ISIS-K, the group that appears to be responsible for this attack. What does that look like with the U.S. military set to leave by Monday?

KINZINGER: Well, it's going to be extremely difficult. I mean, if you think about, for instance, our war against ISIS in Iraq, we initially started with some airstrikes and then came to quickly realize we actually needed troops embedded with local forces to be able to really execute that war against them. And, you know, given the president's insistence of pulling all troops out of Afghanistan and given the fact that ISIS is going to grow and thrive in an ungoverned Afghanistan, I'm sure we can have some payback. We'll find a few targets to hit and may even find a few leaders. But I think prosecuting a war and destroying the entire group militarily will be darn near impossible, I think, without assets on the ground being able to take territory and get good intelligence.

KELLY: Yeah. And what questions are on your mind as you look at just what the next few days could bring? The president says evacuations will continue, the U.S. will complete this mission.

KINZINGER: Well, I mean, I guess I'm hoping, as the president's insisting on out by August 31, that's based on more than just - you know, August 31 was initially set as an arbitrary deadline because it was September 11 until the optics of that were realized to be bad. I hope they have a plan to get everybody out. I'm very worried because we're already having to start to retrograde U.S. forces in the base. There are still a number of U.S. citizens out there and our Afghan allies. So that's a big question. And obviously, you know, how did this bomber get through a Taliban checkpoint? I'm not convinced the Taliban are necessarily working on our side on this one. There could have been some cooperation or knowledge.

KELLY: May I ask, I mean, do you have any knowledge of that or you're just wondering based on what's happened?

KINZINGER: Well, no, that's - I don't have that from any direct knowledge, but I will say this. We knew a lot about this ISIS attack that was going to happen two days ago. It was very crystal-clear intelligence. And it seems to me that that might have come from the Taliban. And given the Taliban's past history of, you know, sometimes working with groups like this, even if they claim they're opponents to them, to embarrass the United States - and also knowing, of course, that the Taliban are made up of also Haqqani network members - it's certainly a real concern I have. They're not our newfound friends. The Taliban are still as bad as they were in 2000.

KELLY: You mentioned September 11. And I will say, I had a few moments listening to President Biden today where it felt like we were in a time warp - this American president vowing revenge on terrorists in Afghanistan for killing Americans, and at a moment where the White House has been so focused on trying to pivot from the war on terror, draw a line under it, turn to domestic priorities. In the few moments we have left, how do today's events complicate that?

KINZINGER: Well, I think it complicates it severely. And I think this is where presidents need to make the case and the American people need to understand, you know, the war on terror is not quick. The war on terror is probably going to last a long time. And it doesn't mean 100,000 troops, but it does mean we have to constantly be on the offense and be vigilant. And unfortunately, I think we've kind of lost sight of that. And today was a sad and unfortunate reminder that this thing is ongoing. It only takes one to declare war.

KELLY: Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, thank you very much for being with us.

KINZINGER: You bet. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.