The fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban is largely a failure to prepare for the orderly departure of American forces from the country, according to one of the candidates for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat.
Denton Knapp, a retired U.S. Army colonel who served for one year in Afghanistan, said a managed departure of American forces from the country could have prevented the situation seen now, with Taliban forces taking over the country and tens of thousands seeking to escape.
“There’s a way to leave our friends,” he said. “We are still in Japan, we are still in Germany, we are still in South Korea and South Korea is flourishing. We evacuated Vietnam very quickly. Unfortunately, we are seeing the same thing with Afghanistan.“
We usually leave security and training forces that assist to make sure things are running smoothly,” he continued. “This is crazy.”
Knapp’s comments came as videos showed panicked Afghan citizens and foreigners scrambling to flee the country in the face of the Taliban takeover. He was one of several candidates for Wyoming’s U.S House seat to offer an opinion on the developments.
U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, blamed the situation on former President Donald Trump’s agreement with Taliban forces setting a withdrawal date for American troops and on President Joe Biden for proceeding with the action.
Cheney and Knapp offered similar opinions that the United States should have planned to leave sufficient American forces in place to protect American security interests.
Knapp, who was part of NATO’s effort to train Afghanistan’s army and police force, said a more orderly downsizing had already begun when he served in the country in 2012-2013.Knapp, who said he has several friends now in hiding in Afghanistan, added that the Afghans had already begun assuming much responsibility for the country’s security when he was there.
“The Afghans were in charge, they were running the meetings, they were assisting with intelligence,” he said. “We were truly refining their force.”
However, even after 20 years, the Afghan people were not completely ready to take over their country’s defense, Knapp added.
“It’s a different culture,” he said. “They’re still in their infancy. Twenty years is a long time for the United States Army, but in other countries, it’s not so long.”
Marissa Selvig of Riverton, one of the other candidates running for office, said she believes the problem stems from America’s long-term involvement with Afghanistan.
“We should have been out of Afghanistan a decade ago, long before Trump was in the picture,” she said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. “Being in a perpetual state of war in the Middle East is not good for our nation, not to mention spending the precious blood of our countrymen and too much money; and now leaving the Taliban well armed is a tragedy.”
While Cheney blamed Trump and Biden, state Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, blamed Cheney in part for the situation.
Gray said Trump had created a sound plan for America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan that would have worked, only to have it thwarted by Biden’s election.
“The Taliban would not have double crossed President Trump, because they understood he would not allow it,” Gray wrote on his Facebook page. “But Biden is so weak. What happened in Afghanistan is another result of Cheney voting to impeach President Trump to strengthen Biden and Pelosi.”
Robyn Belinskey, a Sheridan businesswoman, agreed with Gray that the fault lies with Biden.
“Cheney’s playing the fence,” she said in an email. “This is on Biden. The world sees America as weak. I can’t be blaming Trump for their incompetence.”
In a video posted on his Facebook page late Tuesday, Cheyenne attorney Darin Smith criticized the media for its lack of coverage of Afghanistan and said it was Cheney’s foreign policy that was responsible.
“You created this mess and you took no ownership for it,” Smith said. “Shame on you for not being America first.”
“I have two words for you: you are fired,” he said.
Other candidates for Congress, including state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, R-Cheyenne, could not be reached for comment.