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Sen. Sasse: It Will Be A Disgrace If Americans Are Left Behind In Afghanistan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, lawmakers watching this evacuation include Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who is a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Senator, welcome back.

BEN SASSE: Steve, thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: I want to note this evacuation is now moving the equivalent of a good-sized army or even a small city - 82,000 people as of today - spreading them all around the world. Is it working?

SASSE: Well, we surely want to celebrate every individual American and every individual, you know, American ally and SIV holder who got out. But right now, unless something changes, it looks like the president and his team have a plan that is just to accept the risk that we will leave Americans behind. And leaving a single American behind is a disaster. It's a dereliction of duty. It's a national disgrace. So, no, the plan is not moving nearly fast enough. We need an unequivocal commitment that we don't leave any American behind, and we need a much clearer commitment that we're going to honor the word we've made - the word we've given to so many of our allies who fought on our behalf.

INSKEEP: Meaning we should be willing to go past August 31, even though the Taliban have now insisted on it, which means that risks some kind of conflict with the Taliban.

SASSE: The Taliban doesn't get to run a countdown clock on American lives. So the August 31 deadline was always arbitrary. And now the Taliban is insisting on it, and President Biden is deciding that they control whether or not Americans live or whether or not Americans are taken hostage. It's completely unacceptable. We've been in great danger for weeks and weeks because the administration has been negotiating from a position of weakness. So the danger you reference is already there. The danger isn't because of the commitment to stay to get American lives out. The danger is there because we started from such a position of weakness.

INSKEEP: You're a member of the Intelligence Committee, as we mentioned, and I know you can't say everything that you know, but it is publicly known that the United States has tremendous ability to track people and locate them in the world. Are they doing - is the government doing everything possible to locate people in Afghanistan and get them out?

SASSE: You're right that much of what I know I can't comment on, but the American people should be very glad that our special forces and our intelligence operators are heroes who risk their lives every day. But what we need right now is a commander in chief who declares what can be declared publicly, which is that the Taliban can't be in charge of these American lives. And we just have to be clearer about the fact that these people who fought with us, they matter individually. Each of these families - the families of each of these folks who were drivers and translators and fighters alongside us against a common enemy - they matter individually, but they also matter as a matter of national honor.

You mentioned earlier, as Vice President Harris is traveling abroad, trying to assure our allies that we'll stand against them, Beijing has diplomatic outposts all around the world mocking us and saying to other countries, if - as you think about whether or not to stand by Taiwan, remember that this is how America treats their allies. It is imperative that the president, as our leader, as our commander in chief, declare that we're going to keep our word to our allies because these are individual moms and dads who are at risk of torture and rape and beheading when the U.S. is gone, but also because we need to be sure that other countries looking at the long geopolitical challenges ahead in the technology race and diplomatic race with China - that they know that when the U.S. makes a commitment, the U.S. is the kind of country that honors its word.

INSKEEP: Senator, is there likely - painful as it is to contemplate, is there likely to be some ambiguity at the end? We'd like to know that every citizen is out. We'd like to know that every Afghan ally is out. But not every citizen is registered. Not every citizen necessarily wants to go. It's going to be hard to know if we've gotten every single person.

SASSE: There are many, many, many missteps that the administration has made in the last months. I mean, let's begin with Bagram. It was absolutely indefensible militarily to abandon that base that we had that was so strategically important, both in country and beyond. But it is also true that the administration doesn't have clarity about the number of Americans that are there. And we know that there are many Americans who are scared to try to get to the airport. We know that the president has made false statement after false statement about whether or not Americans and our allies were encountering any difficulty at these Talibani checkpoints where we knew there were beatings happening at the checkpoints. We know that the Taliban is trying to take imagery of our allies who pass through there so that they can execute retribution against them when the U.S. has gone. And obviously, some of that has already begun. You see teenage girls being taken as soldier wives involuntarily. The administration has the obligation to make sure that every American is out and that they don't leave us with a hostage situation at the hands of a bloodthirsty Taliban with whom we should've never been negotiating.

INSKEEP: Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska. I could ask many more questions, but we'll stop the discussion there for now. Pleasure talking with you.

SASSE: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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