Pentagon spokesman says US hasnt lost leverage over Taliban despite withdrawal

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A Pentagon spokesman insisted Sunday the hurried US pullout from Afghanistan won’t cost the country leverage with the Taliban — but a Republican congressman who fought in the war-torn country called the withdrawal a “crushing defeat.”

John Kirby was asked on “Fox News Sunday” whether the Afghan government has lost its biggest bargaining chip in peace talks with the Taliban because of the US’ hasty exit, marked by the overnight retreat from Bagram Airfield last week that allowed looters to cart away American equipment.

“You had this argument that somehow if you have boots on the ground all of a sudden you have all this leverage has not panned out the last five, 10, 15 years, Chris, when we had 100,000 troops on the ground. So the idea that if you have boots on the ground all of a sudden that gives you leverage has not exactly been the historical record so far,” Kirby told host Chris Wallace.

He went on to say that the US has “diplomatic leverage.”

“We are still involved in trying to broker forward a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan. And nothing has changed about our commitment to that. And the rest of the international community also needs to stay committed to that kind of an outcome so … that this kind of progress doesn’t fall by the wayside,” Kirby said.

But Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, noted that the Taliban has claimed they now control about 85 percent of Afghanistan.

“It’s a crushing defeat. You know, the Taliban always had a saying, they said the US, America has the watches, but we have the time,” Kinzinger said on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”

“You know, I’m, I’m proud of the American people for sticking by this mission for 20 years. We actually needed to do it longer,” he said.

“The Taliban have outlasted the will of the United States. It was not a hot war, really. It was basically a peacekeeping operation. And we may have to go back now. It is a crushing defeat, and I’m really sad about it, honestly,” he continued.

“We only had 2,500 troops there, 5,000 NATO troops, and the Afghanistan government was doing 98 percent of the fighting against the Taliban. It’s no wonder they’re collapsing when the U.S. says, ‘We’re gone,’” he said.

President Biden, in a speech last week announcing that the US would complete the troop drawdown by the end of August instead of the originally planned Sept. 11, touted the ability of Afghan forces to keep the country safe.

“The likelihood there’s going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely,” he said in the address at the White House, adding that the “mission hasn’t failed — yet.”

Wallace questioned Kirby on the Taliban gaining strength and territory since the Biden administration announced the withdrawal timetable and whether Afghan forces would be able to withstand the onslaught.

He noted that the militant fighters have “much more capability” but that it’s also a “moment of leadership” for Afghan forces.

“It’s their right and responsibility now to defend their citizens and their country. And I think when we look back, whatever the outcomes are, Chris, we’re going to look back and we’re going to be able to say that it came down to leadership, civilian leadership and military leadership in the field,” he said.

He also pointed out that the US will continue to provide military and financial support.

Wallace pressed him on the fears voiced by many critics of that withdrawal that if the Taliban takes over Afghanistan, al Qaeda would be able to reconstitute itself as the Islamic State did after former President Barack Obama pulled out of Iraq.

The US launched the war in Afghanistan in October 2001 after the Taliban harbored al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden as he planned the 9/11 terror attacks.

“We have the ability to do it even from afar, even from those bases in the Middle East, an aircraft carrier that’s off in the Indian Ocean, we can do that. And we’ve proven that we can do that, even in recent years, in places like Libya. It’s not like we haven’t done this before or that there’s a scrap of earth that we can’t reach if we absolutely need to,” he said.

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