National Security

‘They’re Gone’: Ernst Asks How The US Can Complete A Diplomatic Mission In Afghanistan Without Diplomats

Screenshot via C-SPAN3

Michael Ginsberg Congressional Reporter
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Republican Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst called on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to square the U.S.’ claim of a diplomatic mission in Afghanistan with the withdrawal of State Department officials from the country.

“It sounds like there were very little considerations given to diplomatic or military conditions. The diplomatic, again going to conditions-based, the diplomatic end to it, I think Gen. Milley, you also said that the military mission would end on the thirty-first and transition to a diplomatic mission. But I don’t understand how we fulfill a diplomatic mission after Aug. 31 when there are absolutely no diplomats on the ground in Afghanistan. They’re gone. They’ve been evacuated. Who do we hand that mission off to when there’s nobody there to complete it?” Ernst asked.

“So, can you then say that the president directed you, Secretary Austin, to execute an unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan? Unconditional. Aug. 31. Done.”

“Once he made the decision to withdraw, that was the decision, to leave, and we certainly want to make sure that we, we shaped conditions so that our embassy could maintain a presence there and continue to engage the government of Afghanistan. So protection of the embassy was pretty important,” Austin responded.

“Secretary Austin, you are extremely diplomatic in your answers. I can appreciate that. But this was not a conditions-based withdrawal,” Ernst shot back.

WATCH:

President Joe Biden began deploying additional troops to evacuate U.S. embassy personnel from Kabul on Aug. 12. After Kabul fell to the Taliban on Aug. 15, State Department officials began operating out of Hamid Karzai International Airport. Charge d’Affaires Ross Wilson, the highest-ranking U.S. official in Afghanistan, left the country on Aug. 30. Hundreds of Americans and thousands of allies remain trapped in the country. (RELATED: REPORT: US Officials Destroy Sensitive Documents In Afghanistan Embassy As Taliban Close In)

Taliban officials have called on the U.S. to reopen the Kabul embassy.

“America should have only a diplomatic presence in Kabul. We have communication channels with them and we expect them to reopen their embassy in Kabul and we also want to have trade relations with them,” spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in August.

State Department officials have not ruled out diplomatic recognition or cooperation with the Taliban, listed as a terrorist organization by the National Counterterrorism Center.