'A failure to prepare': Members of Arizona's congressional delegation react to collapse in Afghanistan

President Joe Biden faced rare, bipartisan criticism Monday from Arizona’s members of Congress who were troubled by the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan and the chaotic evacuation from Kabul.

With the U.S’s chaotic withdrawal in Afghanistan, Sen. Mark Kelly and Republican members of Arizona’s congressional delegation criticized President Joe Biden’s handling of the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul and offered words of support for American troops. 

GOP members of the delegation issued scathing criticism of the drawdown, saying it was “botched” and an “absolute wreck."

Democrats highlighted the need to evacuate Americans and allies while Republicans said the White House’s exit plan, based on dire images emerging from Kabul, failed to implement an exit plan that prioritized safety. 

Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., a retired combat veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a written statement the rapidly deteriorating situation “reveals a failure to prepare for a scenario where the Afghan government and military would refuse to fight the Taliban's advances when put to the test.”

The Kabul airport must be kept secure, he said, and evacuations of Americans and allies should happen as rapidly as possible. 

Over the weekend and throughout Monday, Kelly’s staff had received dozens of requests for assistance for Afghan nationals and family members who are trying to flee the country, a spokesperson confirmed. 

Many of the requests are coming from Americans, service members, and others, who are in touch with Afghans they served alongside. Kelly’s office is coordinating requests through the State Department and the Pentagon.

“I am grateful for the American servicemembers who, on hours’ notice, rapidly deployed to Kabul over the past few days to secure the airport and facilitate evacuations, just as I am grateful for the hundreds of thousands of service members and civilians, and their families, who over the past twenty years have sacrificed so much in this war," he said.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., noted that American troops for 20 years have fought to defeat those who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2011, including Osama bin Laden. 

“Now it is the duty of the administration to evacuate those Afghans who risked their own safety to support America’s mission,” the senator said in a statement. 

Rep. Greg Stanton, D-Ariz., said the decision to withdraw was the right one. 

“Yet, as we watch the heart-wrenching events in Afghanistan unfold, there are many questions about how this withdrawal could have gone differently,” he said in a statement. “We will demand answers from this Administration.”

Rep. Ruben Gallego, a Marine Corps combat veteran who was deployed to Iraq in 2005 as part of a reserve unit, said the resurgence of the Taliban is tragic. The Taliban’s rapid takeover of the territory over the past several weeks — after 20 years of war — demonstrates “the conditions for a peaceful and stable Afghan state could not be created.”

Gallego, D-Ariz., said troops must find and evacuate all U.S. citizens, Afghan allies of U.S. forces, and Afghan citizens most at risk by the Taliban. 

“The danger that faces these individuals and their families if we fail to act quickly cannot be overstated,” Gallego said in a statement. “America and our allies across the world can and must welcome these Afghan refugees who stood by us when we needed them the most.”

Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who has called for a halt to all immigration, extended that to include evacuees from Afghanistan — even those in the military.

“These are not refugees,” he said in a statement. “These are Afghan fighting age men who chose not to fight against the taliban. Not one shot was fired. They do not belong in our country. They belong in their country. We are not the world’s dumping ground for every third world country.”

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., said she attended a congressional briefing Sunday with White House officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken who she said assured lawmakers the drawdown would be safe and orderly.

“Footage from the ground shows that is clearly not the case,” she said in a statement. “After decades of sacrifice by American men and women in Afghanistan, it is devastating to see what has become of this country.”

Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., said he has long supported the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. 

“However, that belief was premised on the idea that any withdrawal would be logically conducted in a safe and organized fashion,” he said. 

Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., chairman of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, said Biden “abandoned Trump’s peace plan & exit strategy & haphazardly created his own. 

“Biden is FULLY responsible for this absolute wreck.”