20 years after 9/11 attack prompted him to join military, Steube reflects on Afghan chaos
Sarasota Congressman Greg Steube was in a break room at the University of Florida’s law school on Sept. 11, 2001, when the first hijacked airplane hit the World Trade Center.
The law students watched the horror unfold on television.
Steube had never considered joining the military before that day, but said he felt called to serve after the terrorist attack.
“I just viewed it as my responsibility to serve our country,” he said. “After your country has been attacked, it’s our generation’s Pearl Harbor day. We were attacked on our own soil.”
Steube enlisted in the U.S. Army while still in law school, graduated early and eventually deployed to Iraq, where he oversaw detainee operations in northern Iraq for the 25th Infantry Division. After Steube left the military, his infantry division deployed to Afghanistan.
“There were buddies of mine that stayed, they were with the 25th on both deployments,” he said.
Having joined the military to defend the nation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which were planned by al Qaeda from their safe haven in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Steube is aghast at how America’s mission in Afghanistan is coming to an end.
The Taliban returned to power last week, nearly two decades after the U.S. military first launched attacks on the group to break its grip on Afghanistan and prevent it from harboring terrorists.
Taliban forces overran the country, defeating Afghan security forces and overthrowing the western-backed government just two weeks before the American military was set to complete its withdrawal.
Chaotic scenes at the airport in Kabul, the Afghan capital that was captured by Taliban forces last week, have prompted comparisons to the fall of Saigon during the Vietnam war.
The U.S. has been working to evacuate Americans and allies, with President Joe Biden saying that the American military will stay in the country until the evacuations are complete.
“Let me be clear,” Biden said in a speech Friday in which he defended his administration’s handling of Afghanistan. “Any American who wants to come home, we will get you home.”
Biden has come under sharp criticism for the tumultuous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, though.
The withdrawal was initiated by former President Donald Trump and supported by Steube and other Trump backers, but Steube said it was poorly executed by Biden’s administration.
“I supported, and do support, the Trump administration’s policy of getting out of Afghanistan,” Steube said. “I supported it when Trump was president and I supported it when Biden was president … I’ve done press saying the only thing I agreed with Biden on was Afghanistan.”
“But not the way they did it,” Steube added.
The Trump administration struck a deal with the Taliban to withdraw all U.S. troops by May 1. Biden supported Trump’s decision to withdraw all troops, but pushed the deadline back to September. Steube said Biden should have stuck to Trump’s deadline.
“When the Biden administration went back on their deal with the Taliban to leave on May 1 everything came off the table for them,” Steube said. “So now the Taliban – and they’re right – we broke an agreement with them. The moment that happened all deals are off the table now. So now the Taliban is forcefully moving in.”
Trump also has criticized how Biden is handling the pullout, even as some former Trump administration officials have pointed to the deal Trump and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo cut with the Taliban as the source of the Afghan government’s collapse.
“Our secretary of state signed a surrender agreement with the Taliban,” Trump national security adviser H.R. McMaster said in an interview with journalist Bari Weiss. “This collapse goes back to the capitulation agreement of 2020. The Taliban didn’t defeat us. We defeated ourselves.”
Steube said blaming Trump for what’s happening in Afghanistan is “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.”
“To blame President Trump, who has been out of office for eight months, this is 100% under the authority of President Joe Biden,” Steube said.
Steube is not the only veteran in Florida’s congressional delegation who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan. U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, a Republican representing portions of Palm Beach, Martin and St. Lucie counties, served in Afghanistan during his 12 years in the Army and lost both of his legs in a bomb blast.
Mast told the Palm Beach Post this week that Biden “owns this one 100%.”
“President Biden chose to conduct the withdrawal, to do it how he did it, which was the most backward possible way that it could be done,” Mast said.
Steube and Mast are frequent critics of the Biden administration, but it’s not just Republicans who are raising concerns about what is happening in Afghanistan.
U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, a Democrat from the Orlando area who worked as a national security specialist, said in an interview with Politico that she is “disappointed” with the situation in Afghanistan.
“I also worked at the Department of Defense, I know what a planned drawdown looks like,” Murphy said. “I know what an orderly departure looks like. I’m disappointed that this is the way in which we are withdrawing.”
U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat and Iraq war veteran, released a statement last week criticizing the Biden administration.
“For months, I have been calling on the Administration to evacuate our allies immediately,” Moulton said in the statement, according to Politico. “The fact that, at this hour, we have not even secured the civilian half of the Kabul airport is testament to our moral and operational failure.”
Biden defended his handling of Afghanistan in an ABC News interview and White House speech last week. He stood by his decision to pull troops out, and said the final withdrawal was bound to be tumultuous.
“Getting out would be messy no matter when it occurred,” Biden said on ABC, adding in a speech Friday that “there’s no way in which you’d be able to leave Afghanistan without there being some of what you’re seeing now.”
But the bipartisan criticism of how Biden’s administration has handled the Afghanistan withdrawal shows the situation is widely viewed as a calamity, one that may haunt the president.
“How this was conducted will go down as one of the biggest failures both by State and the Department of Defense in our nation’s history,” Mast said. “As they say, the devil is in the details. The details about how this withdrawal was conducted created a situation where they were so stupid about it they pulled out the people with the guns before they pulled out the people without the guns.”