Withdrawing coalition forces from Afghanistan could have “devastating” consequences on national security and put the continental U.S. at risk of another terrorist attack, Montana Sen. Steve Daines said Tuesday.
Daines traveled to Turkey to discuss Russia’s growing influence in the region before flying with U.S. Ambassador John Bass to Afghanistan, where he visited Montana troops and sat with the region’s top military commanders.
Daines said the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is working.
“A U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, in my opinion, would have devastating consequences and put America’s safety at risk,” Daines said during a media call Tuesday. “We have direct evidence of Isis-inspired plots that are going on in Afghanistan to directly hit the homeland. If it were not for the U.S. forces there in Afghanistan, the risk would be greater.”
In Afghanistan, Daines met with members of the Montana National Guard’s 495th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, along with Gen. Austin Miller, commander of U.S. forces and NATO’s Resolute Support Mission in the region.
Daines said Afghanistan remains “a very dangerous place.”
“It’s not just the threat we have with the Taliban every day, but Isis and Al Qaeda forces are embedded in Afghanistan,” he said. “If it were not for these troops, Isis would be in a much better place to strike against U.S. targets.”
Daines said he learned of one direct connection between a radical Afghan group and operatives in New Jersey. While foiled, that plot was hatched near the same site where Osama bin Laden formulated his own 9/11 attacks in 2001, Daines said.
“There’s a direct connection between what’s going on in Afghanistan and threats to the homeland,” he said. “If we’ve learned anything over the last 17 years since 9/11, it would be that a vacuum creates a place where these radical groups form and inspire plots to hit the homeland.”
The presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan marks the longest-running conflict in U.S. history. More than 2,416 American troops have been killed in the fighting over the last 17 years while the war itself has cost taxpayers more than $2 trillion, according to one study by Brown University.
Daines said the U.S. must maintain its presence until a negotiated political settlement is reached between the Taliban and the Afghan government.
“That’s where our U.S. policy is at, that’s where General Miller is at, and that’s where President (Ashraf) Ghani is at,” Daines said. “The Trump strategy has set a vision for victory and a transfer of power to the Afghan government.”
To do that, Daines said, U.S. troops must remain in place to train, advise and assist Afghan forces to ensure they can work alone to protect their own security. The other half of Trump’s strategy, Daines said, takes the fight to known terror threats, including Al Qaeda and Isis.
“The current strategy in Afghanistan is working,” Daines said. “We’re seeing progress made. Both president Ghani and the Taliban are showing increased willingness to negotiate a peace settlement.”
In Turkey, Daines met with Jennifer Davis, the U.S. consul general in Istanbul, along with U.S. Ambassador Bass to discuss Russia’s growing influence in the region.
“We had a very good discussion over dinner in Istanbul on countering the growing Russian influence we’re actually seeing in Turkey, among other topics,” Daines said, citing the sale of Russian missiles. “They (missiles) have significant capabilities that would be a direct threat to U.S. assets and the stability, certainly, in that part of the world.”