U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, the Democrat representing the 6th Congressional District in Congress, participated in a roundtable with Kitsap Daily News reporters Aug. 20.
One story ran last week. In this one the lawmaker provides his views on national and international issues.
The situation in Afghanistan has been in a constant state of flux since the start of the U.S. withdrawal. A week after Kilmer’s roundtable an attack by a suicide bomber resulted in 140 people being wounded and left at least 100 Afghans and 13 U.S. service members dead. Kilmer provided KDN with a written statement supplementing his earlier comments.
His statement reads, in part: “On August 26, we learned the devastating, and heartbreaking news, that at least 13 U.S. service members were killed in terrorist attacks in Kabul, Afghanistan, with others wounded. Our service members in Afghanistan are doing courageous and important work — helping get Americans home and helping vulnerable people get to safety. I vehemently and wholeheartedly condemn the horrific attacks that occurred, and I am praying for those who were lost and wounded.”
Kilmer was asked if he agreed with the president’s stance that no mistakes were made in the Afghan withdrawal:
“I think it’s very important to look in the windshield, not just in the rear-view mirror. Right now, the appropriate focus to make sure that all Americans there and our Afghan partners and their families are getting out of harm’s way,” he said.
Congress will need to review the actions over the last weeks and the last 20 years of America’s involvement in the country, Kilmer added.
The congressman pointed out that last week he joined 70 members of Congress in writing a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas with requests about making sure the U.S is addressing the ability of the Afghan partners to get out of harm’s way.
“We have a caseworker who is dedicated on this issue. We are getting calls from veterans who had interpreters they worked with when they were overseas, saying ‘Hey, this is a person who needs some help,’ and we are engaging with the State Department on that.”
Kilmer indicated he was surprised by the sudden surrender of Afghan forces after U.S. soldiers started to leave, which enabled the Taliban to swiftly take over Afghanistan in a matter of days. The lawmaker recounted he had visited the country a few years ago and was left with the impression that the U.S.-trained Afghan military would be able to stand up against Taliban forces.
“I still remember meeting with a guy who showed me bullet holes in his body because of the Taliban and a guy who told us a story about his sister walking through their village — she slipped and fell, and part of her garment flipped up and so part of her bare leg was showing. The Taliban beat her mercilessly. [The man] said, ‘I will fight to my last dying breath to prevent the Taliban from ever ruling this country.’ So, it’s been hard to see what played out and square that with what I heard when I was there.”
Kilmer was asked how confident he was the Taliban would be able to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming a safe haven for terrorists to plan future attacks on the United States. “I think we have to be very vigilant to ensure that Afghanistan doesn’t become a breeding ground for terrorism…That’s why you have seen the U.S. engaging with our allies in Europe and throughout the world to exert some pressure around even recognizing the [Taliban] government. It goes beyond issues of terrorism to basic recognition of basic human rights. That’s a sharp line for America and its allies. It’s abhorrent to me that the Taliban would control Afghanistan, given its history.”
Even though the U.S. is removing troops, the military will still have the means to keep tabs on nefarious actors within the country, Kilmer added.
“The Biden administration has already invested in and developed over the horizon surveillance and counter-terrorism efforts with regard to Afghanistan. We have substantial counter-terrorism efforts in a lot of countries where we don’t have a military presence. So, I think it’s important to acknowledge that there are still actions we can take to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorism even without having thousands of troops on the ground. I know that the administration’s intent,” he said.
The withdrawal has been roundly criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and some world leaders. This heightens the possibility that Democrats could suffer political fallout for what has been described as a botched operation. The political cost is particularly important given the 2022 mid-term elections, which will determine which party will control the U.S. House and Senate, are just one year away.
Asked if Biden’s handling of the Afghan pullout could harm his party, Kilmer pivoted from the specter of politics to national security. “I don’t really see this through a political lens. I discourage people from thinking about foreign policy through the lens of politics because decisions have to be made in the interest of America’s national security, not based on politics,” he said.
Jan. 6 insurgency
The after-effects of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol are still being felt. The riot left more than 100 police officers injured and five people dead.
One of the most difficult things about Jan. 6, Kilmer noted, actually happened post-attack and after the Capitol Building was cleared of rioters – it was when lawmakers returned to the chambers to certify the electoral college vote.
“It was hard to see 139 of my Republican colleagues walk through a crime scene, walk onto the House floor and vote against the certification of the electoral college, and perpetuate the big lie that somehow this election was stolen — which 60 courts and nearly every independent observer including most in [the media] had found to be untrue.”
Given that some Republicans have tried to downplay the events of Jan. 6, Kilmer was asked if those efforts have hurt his ability to work across the aisle.
“In an institution of 435 members, for good or for bad, you can’t work with everybody. You kind of get to choose some of the folks who you tag-team with when you work on legislation together, and that’s fine,” he said.
A House Select committee is investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection. “My hope is it goes beyond just what happened and gets at how we can prevent something like this from happening again,” he said. “This is not just about lapses in security. It is also important to get at the root causes of this. The presence of hate groups, extremist groups.”
The lawmaker indicated the House Select committee investigation was not his first choice as to how that fateful day would be examined.
“The first proposal was to a 9/11-style commission, which I think is the right way to do this, personally. There is value in having an outside perspective…I think that is better than nothing, but I think the original proposal would have been optimal.”