By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – With a worried eye toward Afghanistan, New Hampshire’s governor and congressional delegation are speaking out about the hasty evacuation efforts and what can be done now to prevent a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Democrats and Republicans alike noted failure with the process now underway to evacuate, but Democrats said now is not the time to be pointing fingers.
Now, it’s about getting people to safety as the Taliban takes control of the country, they said.
On Tuesday Gov. Chris Sununu said his office has received countless calls from residents asking about the status of New Hampshire residents in Afghanistan.
Sununu wrote a letter asking Secretary of State Anthony Blinken how many New Hampshire people have reached out to the U.S. State Department for help and whether there is anything the state of New Hampshire can do to help.
“What are your plans to safely evacuate any and all New Hampshire residents out of Afghanistan?” Sununu asked Blinken.
Minutes before President Joe Biden addressed the nation Monday on the fall of the government to the Taliban, Sununu said there should have been more of a plan to get people safely out of that country where American forces have been fighting and equipping others to fight for the past 20 years.
“I think most Americans would say that what we have been witnessing over in Afghanistan is absolutely tragic,” said the Republican governor who may be considering a run for the U.S. Senate.
“It’s a humanitarian crisis. It was a botched operation from the very beginning. This idea of how this was going to go, and it was expectations that just were not set. The logistics were not put into place to make sure all were safe.
“That being said we are reaching out to the Department of State to find out if there are New Hampshire citizens there and what can we do to help. There have been a lot of calls not just to my office, but to Congressional offices as well. I think everyone is joining together to say, ‘How do we get our citizens out?'”
Sununu said he heard that 6,000 more troops were being sent by Biden and he called that a “great step” but added there needs to be some sort of security surrounding the airport.
“We shouldn’t be coming at the last minute to see people hanging off airplanes,” he said, referring to video footage of people apparently falling to their deaths on the tarmac.
“There are a whole series of mistakes,” Sununu said including logistics, setting unreasonable time frames, predefining things too early, and “letting your enemy know” what and when you are doing things.
Former Republican President Donald Trump set a March deadline for troop withdrawal. Biden pushed it out to May and then announced the final troops would leave Sept. 11, the 20th anniversary of the attack on the United States.
Sununu said making sure the priority of safety for U.S. citizens to evacuate coming from the Biden Administration was faulty and too late.
“Two weeks ago, it was, well, is this going to look like Saigon,” Sununu said, referring to the U.S. evacuation from Vietnam. “The reality is it does look like Saigon and it is a real human tragedy.”
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, was an early and vocal opponent of Biden’s withdrawal plan and in April said so in an interview with WBUR in Boston.
Of particular concern to Shaheen are the rights of women and girls under Taliban leadership.
A senior member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees, the New Hampshire Democrat said paperwork must be waived and people should be hastily evacuated.
“Over the weekend, the world watched as Kabul fell, with images of Afghan civilians at the airport pleading to be evacuated seared into our minds. Dire conditions on the ground persist today and without swift, decisive action from the administration, Afghan civilians will suffer or die at the hands of the Taliban,” Shaheen said.
“To start, our Afghan partners – SIV applicants – who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with American troops on the battlefield must be immediately evacuated to safety – that means waiving parts of the SIV process that can no longer be feasibly conducted in Afghanistan due to the Taliban takeover. The same should be done for Afghans who assisted the U.S. mission through non-governmental organizations and aid agencies, and other vulnerable populations such as journalists, human rights defenders, and women leaders. And there must be an immediate expansion of the refugee program for Afghan women seeking asylum, whose lives are in jeopardy as the Taliban resumes control and turns back the clock on 20 years of progress for women’s rights. A failure to act now will seal their fate, and the generation of girls who grew up with freedoms, education, and dreams of building their country’s future will die with them,” said Shaheen.
The senator said she is continuing to monitor “the grave developments in Afghanistan” and urged the Biden administration to take every step to protect all U.S. citizens.
Shaheen historically partnered with Senator John McCain on efforts to protect Afghans who’ve risked their lives to support U.S. diplomatic efforts abroad by strengthening the Afghan SIV program. She continues to lead bipartisan efforts in Congress to reauthorize additional Afghan SIVs.
Shaheen said the time for fingerpointing is not now. It is time to act with haste to remove those in peril.
“There is plenty that lawmakers disagree on with respect to withdrawal from Afghanistan, but we all agree that the United States must evacuate vulnerable Afghans immediately. The President reaffirmed this today and I urge his administration to do everything possible to evacuate them and their families and deal with the bureaucracy later. Lives are on the line,” Shaheen said.
U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, issued a statement Sunday that said the situation in Afghanistan is the result of failures by multiple administrations.
In fact, Biden, Trump, Barack Obama, and George Bush have all been commanders in chief during this engagement, both Republican, and Democrat.
“The Biden administration must ensure that we have a plan in place for protecting Americans in Afghanistan and those who served alongside us the past 20 years as well as the safety of Afghan women and girls,” Hassan stressed.
Hassan visited Afghanistan in 2019 as part of a congressional delegation focused on its future and counterterrorism measures.
U.S. Rep. Annie Kuster, D-NH, who has also visited Afghanistan as a congressional leader, noted in a statement she would “continue to closely monitor the situation in Afghanistan and once efforts to withdraw U.S. citizens and Afghan partners are complete, we must turn our attention to strategic steps we can take to ensure the region does not return to a haven for terrorists, and that all Afghan citizens — especially women and girls — are safe from violence, persecution, and brutal treatment from the Taliban.”
She said the developments in Afghanistan are “deeply troubling and the images are heartbreaking. The rapid failure of Afghanistan’s government and the Afghan military was extraordinary and disappointing, she said.
U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas, D-NH, issued a statement calling the scenes from Afghanistan “devastating and deeply concerning.”
He noted that there will be time to “re-examine foreign policy failures” over the past two decades, not just in the evacuation hours, “but now we must do all we can to ensure the safe return of Americans and our partners and honor the service of all those who deployed to Afghanistan and their families.”