After Kabul Airport Carnage, Trump, Republicans Hammer Biden's Decision to Abandon Bagram

Republican critics of President Joe Biden are blasting his administration for abandoning a former U.S. airfield in Bagram, about 25 miles away from Thursday's deadly terror attack at the Kabul airport.

The Bagram Air Base was the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan until it was abandoned on July 1. The military was ordered to leave the base in the middle of the night without the base's new Afghan commander being informed beforehand, according to The Associated Press. The Taliban overwhelmed the base and took control of it earlier this month.

GOP lawmakers contend that keeping the base and using it for evacuations may have prevented Thursday's ISIS-K attack, which resulted in the deaths of at least 13 American troops. If the Bagram airfield had been targeted in a similar attack, the large security perimeter around the base could have meant far fewer, if any, U.S. casualties. Some are suggesting that the U.S. should still attempt to "retake" the base.

"The biggest mistake in this debacle is abandoning Bagram," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said in a series of tweets. "I urge the Biden Administration to reestablish our presence in Bagram as an alternative to the Kabul airport so that we do not leave our fellow citizens and thousands of Afghan allies behind."

"I have advocated for days that the Bagram Air Base should be reopened as the Kabul airport is very difficult to defend and has been the only evacuation outlet," he added.

We have the capability to reestablish our presence at Bagram to continue to evacuate American citizens and our Afghan allies.
 
The biggest mistake in this debacle is abandoning Bagram.

— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) August 26, 2021

Former President Donald Trump said the decision to withdraw from Bagram was a mistake during an interview on The Truth With Lisa Boothe podcast earlier this week, before Thursday's attack. Trump said that "we should have kept Bagram because Bagram is between China," explaining that "it has total access to China, Iran and Afghanistan."

Joe Biden Republicans Kabul Attack Bagram Trump
Republicans are criticizing President Joe Biden's decision to abandon a former U.S. airfield in Bagram, Afghanistan after Thursday's deadly terror attack at the Kabul airport killed at least 13 U.S. troops. Biden is pictured during a speech on the attack at the White House in Washington, D.C. on August 26, 2021. Drew Angerer/Getty

During an interview on Fox News after the attack, Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Fla.) argued that the Kabul airport "is not defendable." Waltz called Thursday's casualties "untenable" and urged the military to return to Bagram. He said that retaking the airfield was "a contingency the military is prepared for" but will require "leadership from this White House."

In a statement, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) urged Biden to either extend the August 31 withdrawal deadline, expand "the perimeter around the Kabul airport" or retake the Bagram base.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a statement that Biden had gone "against the advice of top military leaders and abandoned Bagram Airfield," adding that she believes the "deaths of American servicemembers today are a direct result of Biden's weak leadership and failed withdrawal."

Biden denied that he failed to follow the advice of military leaders in choosing to abandon the Bagram Airfield, insisting that he followed recommendations to place a "much wiser" focus on the Kabul airport.

"They concluded—the military—that Bagram was not much value added, that it was much wiser to focus on Kabul," the president said during a briefing on Thursday, which the White House pointed out to Newsweek in response to a request for comment. "And so, I followed that recommendation."

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby dismissed the idea of retaking Bagram during a briefing earlier this week, maintaining that such an operation would pose too much risk to U.S. troops. Kirby stressed that Bagram "was always supposed to be closed down" and was "the last base to be turned over to the Afghans."

Update (8/26, 10:14 p.m.): This article has been updated to reflect the White House's response to Newsweek's request for comment.